In 2013, all the big guns have been shooting towards wearables - particularly smartwatches. For many they're the next step towards our tech-dependent lives, as early promise from Pebble and Sony's Smartwatch 2 showed. The next wearable territory to conquer is smart glass, which is so far virtually owned by Google's Glass - a thoroughly 'beta' device only available to a select few. However, if the various rumours and patents are to be believed, they'll not be the only viable option for long.
If you've missed the hubbub surrounding Google's own goggles, then here's what you should be expecting from them and other wearable wannabes:
1. An augmented reality experience that overlays useful information over your world view using some form of heads-up display
2. Connectivity either through a smartphone or independently to give you real-time notifications from a range of platforms and social media
3. Make calls and use voice commands to dictate messages to your contacts
4. Take photos and / or video
For those of you unfamiliar with Google Glass, here's the lowdown. In its current form, Glass is only available to developers and 'Explorers', costing around US$1,500. The heads-up display sits in the top right corner of the field of view, giving users the perception of a floating image in front of their right eye. It has a 5MP camera capable of recording 720p video with sound using voice commands alone, and currently has 12GB of usable storage.
For the full experience it connects with an Android or iOS smartphone in your pocket to allow searches, navigation, and a range of notifications, as well as a selection of Glass-specific apps. Other features include a touch-panel for easy navigation and a bone-conducting speaker for relaying spoken notifications.
Despite the fact that Google's Glass is not available to the masses yet, a second generation model is in the works. Google says it will offer compatibility with conventional spectacles and sunglasses, and will an optional earbud for audio as well as the bone-conducting tech. There will no doubt be more minor hardware improvements to boot.
As with the original, for now you'll have to be accepted on to Google's Project Glass Explorer program and be prepared to stump up the US$1,500. If you happen to know someone with Glass right now, you might want to start sweetening them up as they'll have the chance to dish out three invites each to prospective explorers. Hopefully 2014 will see the project become available on a wider scale, and across the pond here in Europe.
Where would any gadget category be without a device from Samsung? In recent years, the Korean company has been notorious for taking the best of what other companies offer, then adding buckets of extra features. Whilst there's no official specifications to go off, the likelihood is that it'll be a match for Glass in every specification, even if it doesn't have the same developer support.
It comes as no surprise, then, to see Samsung the subject of rumours concerning face-mounted tech. Mobile Review founder Eldar Murtazin recently tweeted that Samsung was prepping its own Glass competitor, set to fall under the same brand as its Galaxy Gear Smartwatch. This was then followed up by some patent digging from the Wall Street Journal, unearthing a prototype with a 'sportier' focus – it would allow the user to keep in the virtual loop whilst out on the morning run.
'Galaxy Gear Glass' is something of a mouthful, but there's sense in Murtazin's speculation and we'd expect to see something official in the first half of next year - perhaps alongside a Galaxy S5.
What would a speculation and rumour piece be without mention of Apple? The Cupertino company, forever researching and testing prototypes, likely already has a Glass rival or two lined up in its super-secret laboratories.
Like most other brands, these rumours stemmed from a patent filed by Apple; it covers "Methods and apparatus, including computer program products, implementing and using techniques for projecting a source image in a head-mounted display apparatus for a user". That points strongly towards some kind of Glass competitor from Cupertino.
Don't expect Apple to be anywhere near the front of the queue of head-tech – it has little to gain from rushing its own variant to market. Rumours of an iWatch however continue to build momentum, and comments from Tim Cook mean that a wrist-mounted companion to the iPhone appears inevitable. It could well land in 2014.
Out of all the big brands, Sony has the most wearable tech research already in place with its Personal 3D Viewer, range of TVs with active 3D glasses and three generations of SmartWatch.
Despite all this R&D, the company has yet to make any official announcement on whether there's a SmartGlass on the horizon. But, given its excitement surrounding the recently reviewed Smartwatch 2, it seems only a matter of time before something is revealed.
Way back in 2012, Engadget reported that Sony had a patent filing for a set of smart glasses capable of transmitting messages and content to other wearers, connecting to a smartwatch, and reading visual tags such as QR codes. TechCrunch then reported further patent filings detailing a set of glasses with dual-displays and stereo headphones that could create a very immersive augmented experience.
Microsoft's double glazing
In November 2012, an ambitious AR project leaked from Microsoft suggested the company was already working on smartglasses. The patent, filed back in May 2011, talked of the possibility of overlaying detailed info atop live action. Think stats above a sportsperson, lyrics next to a pop star, or contact details next to recognised friends.
Microsoft's head-mounted ambitions also came to light in patents showing a Kinnect-connecting set of glasses. These could add another layer of immersion to games that support the movement controller, but could also be taken out and about to make use of other augmented reality features.
There's still nothing official, but expect Microsoft to be ahead of, if not hot on the heels of, whatever is revealed by Samsung next year.
If there's one problem with a lot of these patented designs and products, it's the question of style. Persuading even the most eager of geeky types to wear Google Glass as much more than a novelty has been something of a challenge for Google.
Who better, then, to tackle this than the company who was first to make sunglasses seriously cool since the likes of Ray-Ban? In April 2012, the CEO of Oakley told Bloomberg that his firm would have its own competitor to Project Glass, and that they'd actually been working on refining this technology for around 15 years.
Oakley has already integrated an MP3 player with a pair of sunnies, and owns a raft of patents relating to heads-up displays that could give it a unique advantage when battling it out with the usual tech brands.
Four more you can order now
Aside from the big boys' offering, there are various similar devices that are either available to purchase now or for pre-order.
The American company has been in to head-mounted tech for quite a while now, with a range of digital eyewear already on the market that promises to deliver immersive movie and gaming experiences. Its SmartGlasses were first shown off at CES 2013 and appeared to be very close to a finished product. Vuzix continues to claim they'll be available in time for Christmas, but there's been little news since the initial announcement back in January.
Rather than being the smartphone companion that most other manufactures have been gunning for, Vuzix has managed to cram the guts of a mid-range Android smartphone into the unit, making it an independent experience that the firm calls the world's first 'hands free smartphone'.
Rather than an accessory to your own glasses, the Recon Jet is a sports-centric set of glasses heavily targeted at athletes. There's an array of sensors on board including gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, altimeter and thermometer. While most of these features are already in people's smartphones, and can be communicated to a smartwatch such as the Pebble, the Recon Jet shuns phone dependence in favour of a full computing experience similar to the Vuzix. Rather than sticking with Android, Recon has created its own open SDK, allowing devs to built apps that are native to the Recon Jet.
Of course like others, there's an onboard camera to film sporting adventures as well as Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth connections. They're already available to order at US$599 (around RM1900) a pop.
Like Recon Jet these too are actual glasses, but are not necessarily as 'cool' as the aforementioned – they have more in common with the protective glasses that your science teacher dished out before performing a rather disappointing chemistry experiment.
Rather than using a peripheral vision-hogging display, GlassUp uses 'real' heads-up technology to beam notifications on to the right hand lens, which the makers claim makes for a less obtrusive experience. Although they have a cut-down version of Android on board, they rely on a smartphone app for connectivity; this means they can claim better usability and a less cumbersome interface than some, thanks to the Glass-esque side-mounted touchpad.
Available to pre-order in a range models, including a variant with and without glasses, and with optional prescription lenses, GlassUp goes for between US$299 (RM948) and US$499 (RM1580).
Set apart from the other smartglasses we've featured comes these traditional-looking glasses from Epiphany Eyewear. Rather than trying to cram an entire computer or notification smarts into a wearable frame, they've instead focused on the ability to capture the visual and auditory world around you using an inbuilt HD video camera. It's activated by a single tactile switch on the side, with the only other truly smart ability coming in the form of live streaming though a phone using YouGen.TV (this lets your Facebook friends in on the action).
To ensure they're still a viable wearable, there's also a button that engages polarisation, turning them from trendy specs into suitable sunnies. So they're not all style over substance.
They're available to pre-order in 8GB, 16GB or 32GB (US$300, US$400 and US$500 respectively – that's around RM950, RM1270 and RM1590) varieties and there’s a Micro USB plug for recharging and data transfer.