With Google Glass back in the labs, Sony’s SmartEyeglass is not so smart

By Hannah Francis from smh.com.au

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.43.39 pmAccording to the ANZ Oxford English Dictionary, “smart” means — variously — “clever”, “ingenious”, “quick to take advantage”, “stylish”, “fashionable”, and/or “prominent in society”.

So we think it’s about time electronics manufacturers ditched the term when referring to their eyewear prototypes.

While “quick to take advantage” might rightly apply to the likes of Toshiba and Sony jumping on the wearables trend with their own iterations of Google Glass, the cleverness of such a move is doubtful.

Google Glass had been bumbling along in development phase for years before Google pulled the “explorer” prototype from public sale last month, ostensibly to go back to the drawing board in pursuit of something more consumer-friendly.

The product had sparked its very own “Glasshole” insult and had become symbolic of the growing social divide in the San Francisco Bay Area, where cashed up techies have been transmuting demographics and pushing up property prices.

App developers had abandoned their Glass projects in droves, and for every early adopter willing to fork out $US1500 for a pair of Google goggles, there were dozens of consumers who wouldn’t be seen dead wearing them in public — let alone pay for the privilege.

Given this context, Sony’s announcement on Wednesday that a developer edition of its SmartEyeglass was now available for pre-order in selected countries (excluding Australia) was poor timing at best, and a poor business decision at worst.

Drawing our attention now to the other denotations of the word — “stylish”, “fashionable” — a person wearing Sony’s SmartEyeglass looks geekier than a five-year-old in coke-bottle lenses.

It’s not even properly wireless; a thick, black cord connects to a controller, which in turn connects via Bluetooth or WLAN to your mobile device and the app required to control the specs.

“The glasses are too identifiable – you can instantly be identified as a geek,” says Dr Paul Harrison, a senior lecturer in consumer behaviour at Deakin University.

Dr Harrison says consumers “look to others” when deciding what to buy, and will largely be turned off by products associated with a group that doesn’t fit the way they see themselves.

“I wear normal glasses, so I’m part of the gang of those who wear glasses, but I don’t know anyone who would aspire to wear Sony or Google Glass even if you put them on a more attractive model — or Leonardo DiCaprio,” he says.

Toshiba also showcased a prototype of its oh-so-cleverly titled “Toshiba Glass” late last year. The frames themselves were pretty clunky, but the tech add-ons were powered by a massive plastic box hanging in front of the wearer’s ear.

Toshiba Australia could not comment on the company’s plans for Toshiba Glass.

Electronics manufacturers already face an uphill battle in marketing specs as an object of desire, as they still retain certain social connotations.

Aside from the slightly esoteric Johnny Depp, even in 2015 we’re hard-pressed to find a celebrity or major on-screen character who wears glasses — unless expressly to symbolise their nerdiness or unattractiveness.

Until manufacturers come up with something that looks less like a computer on your face, they’re absolutely wasting their time — and significant dollars — testing them on the broader public.

Google’s decision to take Glass off the market for a while and go back to the drawing board is a wise one.

“One of the things consumers are not very good at is waiting — we tend to be very impatient — so if it’s not quite ready it may be an expensive and dangerous exercise in terms of marketing strategy,” Dr Harrison says.

In the business arena, it’s a different story. Even wearing Vivienne Westwood, a uniformed flight attendant looks less outrageous in electro-specs than your average Josephine. After all, they’re using them to help you.

But the other major hurdle for consumers, of course, is price.

At $US840 a pop, Sony’s SmartEyeglass about half the price Google Glass was, but still a very expensive way to turn heads for all the wrong reasons.

Australian prices have yet to be announced.

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