The recent industry whispers in augmented reality are mostly about Apple and its rumored fashion-friendly smartglasses, but one company isn't waiting for the iPhone heavyweight to enter the fray.
On Monday, a representative for Vuzix shared part of a recent investor presentation with Next Reality. That part of the presentation includes an image of the next, unreleased version of the company's smartglasses, and it looks pretty damn good.
In fact, the smartglasses look about as normal as you can expect when you consider the fact that they contain components for viewing virtual content. The only telltale signs of embedded tech are the slightly thicker than normal arms on the frames (which serve touch interfaces), which will likely be unnoticeable by all but the most studied follower of cutting-edge AR wearables.
One of the partners involved in making the new device is Plessey and its microLED technology, which has been in the spotlight in recent months regarding Vuzix's next moves.
That relationship is largely based on the use of Plessey's Quanta-Brite technology, which the company describes as an "advanced and proprietary gallium-nitride-on-silicon (GaN-on-Si) technology, with an integrated monolithic array of RGB pixels with advanced first level micro-optical elements." What that technology delivers, according to Plessey, are smaller and lighter optical systems by up to 50% when compared to competing products.
"[Plessey's] microLED technology represents a key part of the solution needed to bring the form and functionality of Vuzix next generation smartglasses to the look and feel of fashion-forward glasses, solutions the world will be clamoring for," said Paul Travers, Vuzix's CEO, in a statement when they announced the partnership in May.
An early leak from a self-described investor on Twitter earlier this month gave eagle-eyed AR insiders a hint of what might be coming, but now Vuzix has directly confirmed that these are indeed the next look for the company's smartglasses line. Next Reality has also confirmed that they'll post the full investor presentation on the Vuzix website in the coming days. At present, no name, price, or release date has been attached to the device.
Design-wise, the new model is certainly a step up from the Vuzix Blade, which recently dropped in price (another hint at a new model in the offing). The Vuzix Blade is sleeker than most, but still has the look of a pair of stylish safety glasses.
The design upgrade puts Vuzix more directly in competition with North, a startup with a lot less experience in the field, and fewer identifiable relationships in the enterprise space. But if the new battleground is the consumer space, the two brands are effectively starting on equal footing in terms of lack of name recognition with your average mainstream consumer. Therefore, the key here will be execution, pricing, and support.
In nearly every category, Vuzix and its experienced team would seem to have the advantage. But even that advantage might be short-lived if Apple fulfills the rumors and enters the AR wearable space in the next 24 months.
Until then, Vuzix has significantly raised the stakes, and now the pressure has increased for even for the likes of Apple to deliver something that might outdo what Vuzix has in the works.