By | December 20, 2023
The rise of wearable face computers

By now, you’re aware of Apple’s groundbreaking XR headset, the Vision Pro. Those who have used it all marvel at its features, graphics and immersive capabilities. Apple will bring it to market in early 2024, and I have no doubt that it will be the gold standard in XR headsets from the start. Given my knowledge of the supply chain, I think Apple can only make between 250,000 and 400,000 units in 2024, and I expect each of them to sell as fast as Apple can supply them. That’s because thousands of developers, gamers, businesses and verticals and early adopters don’t shy away from the $3,500 price tag and snap them up once they come out.

On the other hand, this price tag will be less attractive to the wider consumer market. Still, the launch of Apple’s Vision Pro will accelerate interest in VR, especially AR. This new device will spark interest in cheaper options to deliver basic XR/AR functionality in the form of regular glasses.

Interestingly, the holy grail of XR glasses will be when you can get all the features and functionality of the Vision Pro in a standard goggle format. However, Apple’s technology to deliver immersive XR experiences in Vision Pro is still too large and computationally intensive to fit into any form factor smaller than what Apple has today in its new headset.

Various cheaper options have been around for a few years, but only now are we seeing more interest in some sort of wearable headset that can deliver XR and AR capabilities.

In the advanced part, we have products such as HTC’s Vive Pro 2 and XR Elite, Varjo’s VR-3 and others aimed at vertical business solutions and serious gamers.

Then there are models with more consumer-friendly prices like Meta’s Quest 3 which is priced at $499 and has received a lot of interest and demand since its June 2023 release.

All of these above are in the form of glasses and are not meant to be worn in mobile settings or for extended periods of time.

This year, two other goggle-like form factors received more attention. They deliver two distinct functions, but both provide a form of portable computing. These are often called smart glasses.

The two with the highest profiles are those from Rokid Max AR Glasses and Xreals Air 2 Pro. Both are under $500 and have minimal AR functionality, but they have one feature that makes them alluring. Both can deliver a big-screen, virtual theater-like experience for streaming videos. Over time, they’ll get software upgrades to add more AR features, but the big private screen feature is the big draw today.

The other smart glasses that have received a lot of attention are the Ray-Ban Meta Wayfarer Smart Glasses. While these glasses don’t deliver big-screen theater experiences like those from Rokid and Xreal, they do have built-in cameras that make it easy to take photos and film on demand. This feature is nice because I no longer have to take my smartphone out of my pocket to use a camera, and it makes it possible to do this whenever I want and on demand. Wired.com did a great review of these glasses detailing their features and functionality.

An interesting rumor about the Ray-Ban Meta Wayfarer glasses is that over time and in new models, they may become more AR-capable, eventually allowing a person to see virtual information. This would make them even more interesting, but as a portable camera it has serious merit in itself.

While I don’t think 2024 will be an explosive year for XR glasses or AR-like glasses, it will be a turning point for this market segment. Apple’s Vision Pro is a game changer and will define what is possible in the virtual world and spatial computing. Products from Rokid and Xreal will drive new interest in the eyewear form factor, and as they get smarter, they could take off with a wider audience.

The Ray-Ban Meta Wayfarer and others entering this specific segment in 2024 will attract more interest in the overall AR glasses concept that the market can build on more aggressively in 2025 and beyond.

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