Augmented reality glasses and headsets have come a long way in recent years. While we're still rather far away from AR glasses that would pack great power enclosed in ordinary spectacles, smart glasses technology with AR functionality is getting more and more sophisticated. Let's take a closer look at the best AR glasses currently available, breaking down their key features and capabilities.
By 2028, the AR market is expected to cross $97 billion. With Apple's Vision Pro headset slated for commercial release in early 2024, we’re seeing an increased interest in augmented reality glasses and headsets by global tech players. The arms race in the AR tech scene is very much on.
What Are AR Glasses?
AR glasses are an electronic device designed like everyday eyewear that adds a layer of digital information to the real world. In short, AR glasses overlay your vision with contextually accurate information such as messages, navigation, heart rate, and other custom data fields that you have set up on your smartphone or watch.
The added layer of visual information serves to induce a feeling of immersion that stretches beyond the real world. That’s why many metaverse pundits believe fully immersive AR glasses are one of the prerequisites for the metaverse to become the new face of the connected world. That said, we're still in the rathery bulky AR headsets era, not lightweight glasses, and even they don't yet deliver that smooth and visually stunning experience users expect.
And while we’re yet to experience true augmented reality smart glasses, over the years, many companies took their jabs at building the technology. Most of those devices rely on HUD (heads-up display) technology that doesn't render a 3D image within your vision but simply displays content on the lens.
But even this approach combined with sleek design can turn AR glasses into functional devices with many business applications. For example, Gartner predicts that by 2025, 50% of professionals will perform field service work equipped with a device with AR functionality. Training and onboarding in AR could also offer significant cost cuts in the current downward market.
Learn more about the differences between augmented reality and virtual reality.
Apple Glasses — The Highly Anticipated AR Device
The news about Apple releasing AR glasses first surfaced with Apple's acquisition of the AR startup Metaio in 2015. At that time, there were several stories about the patent for the potential Apple Glasses. But the real fun began in 2019-2020 when Apple started discussing it more seriously.
Apple Glasses became a solid story with the launch of iOS 14, with hints of Project Starboard and rumors of a glassOS.
Apple Glasses will look like regular glasses (with a built-in display) that users can control using gestures. The prototype looks like high-end luxury sunglasses with a thick but elegant frame.
According to a Taiwanese publication, DigiTimes, Apple has already entered the second development phase, but it might take a few more years for the public release. Multiple sources on the internet have floated many rumored details and specs of Apple Glasses:
- Comes with plastic or metal frames
- Truevision display on both lenses
- Gesture-controlled commands in sync with Apple Watch
- Works on Starboard/RealityOS
- Option to add prescription lenses
Also, potential features and applications have come to the speculation pool:
- Place and interact with virtual object in physical environment using LiDAR and ARKit
- Complete tasks without touching the phone using App Clips right from the glasses
- Secure video processing and facial recognition for access and control
- Take immersive phone calls and dab in remote collaboration apps
Initially, and as analyst Jeff Pu claimed, Apple Glasses were to launch in late 2024 alongside Apple Vision Pro headset. However, Apple Glasses have for the time being been deprived of a release date, and Apple’s headset is likely to be released in the last week of January 2024.
Tentative release date: unknown
Expected price: unknown
Meta Glasses — The Metaverse Glasses
Mark Zuckerberg placed a bet on the metaverse concept, so much so that he rebranded Facebook to Meta. And even though the hype for metaverse has faded, Meta's efforts in the AR glasses and headset space seemed to have ramped up.
According to Zuckerberg, Meta Glasses (although that's just a moniker) will redefine our relationship with technology and act as a connective tissue. Moreover, Meta's CTO, Andrew Bosworth, admitted that the company's current prototype of AR glasses could be released as early as later part of 2024. Bosworth also added that the prototype is "the most advanced thing we've ever produced as a species" in consumer electronics, that is.
In the past, Meta's AR prototypes and projects have been codenamed Project Nazare and Project Aria. Regardless of the name, possibly the most expensive smart glasses will offer a full-blown AR experience with 3D graphics and a sleek design.
Meta’s early attempts at launching its own version of AR glasses — Ray Ban Stories in collaboration with Ray Ban — have seen a lukewarm response. But the new version of Meta’s AR Glasses claims to offer a completely different experience than other AR glasses. It's expected that the Meta Glasses will offer the following features, based on Zuckerberg's keynote in October 2021:
- Wide field of view with AR overlay to show information widgets
- Sleek and stylish form factor with an expected thickness of 5mm or less
- Hologram display with built-in projectors, batteries, and multiple sensors
- Radio, speakers, and cameras to provide an immersive experience
- Battery life of up to 4 hours
In Meta's leaked roadmap, the first generation of Meta Glasses were rumored to launch in 2025 (as smart glasses initially), but without offering a truly immersive experience, they would probably attract little attention among AR enthusiasts.
Tentative release date: 2024
Xreal Air 2 Ultra — Competing with Meta and Apple
Xreal, an augmented reality company, has introduced the Air 2 Ultra glasses. This new model is an upgrade from the previous $399 Air 2 and is designed to rival Meta’s Quest 3 and Apple’s Vision Pro headsets. The Air 2 Ultra is set to begin shipping in March and is currently available for preorder by developers. It stands out for its enhanced features and capabilities compared to its predecessor.
- Offers full positional tracking (six degrees of freedom, or 6DOF) in a sunglasses-style form factor
- Suitable for immersive AR applications, TV watching, and playing flat-screen games
- Positioned as a full-fledged spatial computing device, similar to the earlier Light mixed reality device
- Equipped with two cameras for environmental mapping and features like hand tracking
- Includes a 52-degree field of view, 500 nits of brightness, 1080p screen per eye, and up to 120Hz refresh rate
- Weighs 80 grams, slightly heavier than the 72 grams Air 2 model
- Can be connected to various computing devices including macOS and Windows computers, Samsung Android phones, and the iPhone 15. Supports Xreal’s Nebula AR environment on Android, macOS, and Windows
- Will be available in the US, UK, China, Japan, Korea, France, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands
Release date: March
The Air 2 Ultra aims to compete with major AR products by offering advanced features for a more immersive AR experience, targeting developers and expanding to consumers globally.
Google Glass 2 Enterprise Edition — Built for Businesses
NOTE: As of March 2023, Google stopped selling Google Glass Enterprise 2 (Microsoft will maintain support until September 15, 2023).
Google has been an experienced player in the AR game, with the first release of Google Glass its first release in 2013. Google Glass Enterprise Edition is an improved, lightweight version of smart glasses with incredible features to help businesses use AR for various applications.
Google Glass has a voice-controlled interface that allows users to work hands-free inside factories. Companies like DHL and Boeing have reported an increase in operational productivity after equipping their workforce with Google Glass. There are many applications for Google Glass and augmented reality in general, e.g, in manufacturing, logistics.
Here are some of the features and specifications of Google Glass 2 Enterprise:
- 8-megapixel camera
- 32 GB internal storage
- Qualcomm XR1 process
- 640 pixel x 360 pixel RGB display
- 1080p video
- 8 hours of battery life
- Blink and wink sensor
- USB-C port
Google Glass helps workers utilize AR to operate machinery, follow instructions, complete technical training, and collaborate with team members without using a tablet or computer. Google Glass has also been used in the healthcare segment to livestream patient visits, send reports directly for transcription, and conduct tele-consultations.
Released in: 2019
Price: USD 999 per set
More details at Google Glass 2
Snap Spectacles 4
In 2021, Snap announced the 4th generation Spectacles glasses, the first to include a display for real-time augmented reality (AR). The glasses are not yet available for sale, as Snap is positioning them as a development kit for creators to experiment with building AR experiences.
The glasses have a form-over-function approach, offering a lightweight design that consumers would find reasonable, even if some capabilities are pared down. The glasses have a 26.3° diagonal field-of-view, which is notably small, and a 30-minute battery life, making them feel more like a dedicated-use device. The battery case can hold up to four charges, offsetting the need to control battery life.
Developers can apply to get the glasses and dev kit on Snap’s website.
It’s worth noting that Snap Spectacles 4 is a considerable upgrade from the previous version, Snap Spectacles 3, which was met with only a lukewarm response.
Vuzix Blade Upgraded — Enterprise AR Companion
Vuzix Blade 2 is a commercial-grade AR smart glasses with several enterprise AR applications. It is one of the only AR glasses on the list that offers ANSI Z87.1 protection for eyes and is suitable for industrial AR applications at hazardous locations and factories.
Vuzix Blade smart glasses have advanced waveguard optics that overlay digital information on real-world objects like machinery, equipment, or products. Vuzix Blade 2 is a powerful solution to help businesses build a connected workforce.
The smart glasses come with the following specs:
- Vibrant color display
- Quad Core ARM CPU
- 8 MP camera with autofocus
- 8GB internal storage
- Android 11 operating system
- microSD expansion slot
- Full UV protection lenses
- WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity
- Head tracking, touchpad and full voice control
The smart glasses support mixed reality, HD photography and video streaming. In an industrial environment, enterprises can support workers by transmitting instructions, data, and software in real-time to boost operational efficiency.
Released in: 2022
Price: Starts at $999.99
More details at: Vuzix
Xiaomi Wireless AR Glass Discovery Edition
At 2023 MWC, Xiaomi launched its first wireless augmented reality (AR) smart glasses, the Wireless AR Glass Discovery Edition. The device, which weighs 126g, includes a lightweight frame made of carbon fiber and magnesium-lithium alloys, a "retina-level" electrochromic adaptive display, lighting adjustment, Snapdragon Spaces tethering and hand tracking capabilities.
Xiaomi's smart glasses interact with various social media apps such as TikTok and YouTube and also integrate with smart home functions. The smart glasses also boast micro gesture controls, leading to enhanced human-computer interfacing (HCI) capabilities.
Oppo Air Glass 2
Oppo had people intrigued at the 2023 MWC with the success of their first smart glasses from 2022. The glasses have a built-in battery, display, and other technologies, and they felt like a normal pair of glasses on the face. Users can browse a menu of features, including weather, calendar, teleprompter, maps, and translation using swipe and tap gestures.
The glasses are still at the concept stage, but Oppo has a history of taking time to develop products, with the Oppo Find N taking six iterations over four years before going to market. It remains to be seen when the glasses will become a consumer product.
ThinkReality A3 by Lenovo — The Hybrid AR Glasses
ThinkReality A3 by Lenovo is a pair of hybrid glasses with an interesting approach to the AR game. Instead of housing all processing and other capabilities, it connects to handheld devices, e.g., smartphone. This approach helps keep the weight of the device low and ensure it has all the computing power for immersive display of visuals.
ThinkReality A3 is a corded AR device that tethers to Lenovo laptops or Motorola mobile phones. But that doesn't make it restrictive at all. Instead, the strategically placed connector and soft clip make it easy to use and reduce the glasses' bulkiness.
The A3 glasses are sleeker than HoloLens and Google Glass and come with two 1080p displays, wide-angle cameras, and an XR1 Qualcomm processor. Here are more specs and features:
- Corded architecture that connects to mobile phones and/or laptops
- Qualcomm XR-1 Smart Viewer Processor
- Display resolution of 1080p per eye with 200 nits brightness
- 8MP RGB camera
- 130g weight
You can connect the device to a laptop or smartphone and try scenario-specific apps. On the laptop, the device gives a user an option to access secure assets and be a part of virtual workspaces. Enterprises can let their teams work from anywhere with an added layer of privacy, even when working on-the-go.
Released in: Dec 2021
Price: USD 1499.99
Microsoft Hololens 2 — Unlocking AR Possibilities for Enterprise
While not necessarily glasses, Microsoft Hololens 2 is an upgraded version of Microsoft's flagship smart mixed-reality headset and is a powerful device with several interesting industrial applications. Primarily designed for the enterprise, Hololens 2 has an ergonomic design, making it comfortable for users to wear.
Microsoft has hinted its interest in the pursuit of augmented reality devices in the future, to build possibly a more affordable pair of AR glasses to make the technology mainstream, available to consumers for daily use.
Hololens 2 supports spatial mapping and allows natural interactions using hand gestures. It also supports spatial sound, eliminating the chances of isolation from the natural environment.
Hololens 2 helps enterprises conduct training, visualize products, and improve productivity through a mix of AI, computer vision, and augmented reality. Here are some technical specs and features:
- Transparent lenses with 8 MP HD camera and microphone for voice commands
- 2K display that projects overlay for mixed reality experience and interactions with 3D models and holographs
- Eye and hand movement tracking
- 4GB RAM, 64 GB storage, and Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 processor
- WiFi, BlueTooth, and Type-C connectivity
- 2-3 hours of battery life
Microsoft Hololens 2 has a wide field of view, robust gesture control features, and an app ecosystem supported by Microsoft Unity. This opens up gates for unique applications in logistics, manufacturing, and assembly line functions.
Released in: 2019
Priced at: $3500
Magic Leap 2 — Enterprise Immersion
Magic Leap 2 is an augmented reality headset that features a lightweight and comfortable design. ML 2 includes features such as eye tracking, hand tracking, and 6DoF (six degrees of freedom) tracking, which allow users to interact with digital objects in a more natural and intuitive way. The device also includes advanced optics, which provide high resolution and clarity. With a relatively wide field of view, the sense of immersion is enhanced.
The headset is designed for a range of enterprise applications, e.g., engineering to visualize and manipulate 3D models of complex systems. Magic Leap 2 also has the potential to revolutionize the way medical professionals train. The device can be used to create realistic medical simulations, allowing students to practice surgical procedures and develop treatment plans in a safe and controlled environment. Magic Leap 2 can help create visualizations of complex medical data, such as CT scans and MRIs, which surgeons can use to plan how to best operate.
Here are some of Magic Leap 2 specifications:
- 70° diagonal field-of-view (FOV)
- 16GB LPDDR5 RAM
- 256GB storage
- range of operation: 37 cm to infinity
- approx. 3.5hrs battery life (the battery is a separate device)
- 1440 x 1760 pixel resolution display
- 260g weight
Released in: 2022
Priced at: $3,299
Heads-Up Display Glasses
While not nearly as immersive as full AR glasses, smart glasses with HUD technology give users an added layer of information projected on the lenses. Augmented reality glasses use a different type of content-projecting technology.
More notable HUD glasses are:
- Engo Eyewear 2
- Snap Spectacles 3
Other Types of Smart Glasses
On top of smart glasses that display visual content, you also have gadgets like Bluetooth audio sunglasses from Bose or Amazon Echo Frames you can connect to a smartphone to amplify your Alexa assistant experience.
There's also Ray-Ban Stories created in cooperation with Facebook. The glasses can record videos and shoot pictures on top of playing music.
Are AR and VR Digital Trends or a Way to Improve Customer Satisfaction and Employee Productivity?
With AR glasses encased in a small, glasses-like frame and packing immersive AR and high-quality VR functionality, they might become a valuable equipment in professional and entertainment settings. But we're yet to experience this level of technological sophistication. Because of that, both AR and VR can improve customer satisfaction and employee productivity but to a limited degree and in highly specific contexts.
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