2013-07-17

Co.Labs

Finally, Someone Built A Budget Version Of Google Glass

Anything Google can do a jaunty startup can do better. And cheaper. In this case, it's GlassUp: An augmented reality face-computer (faceputer?) for the rest of us.



While Google Glass's arrival date as a consumer-facing product remains something of a mystery, as does the final pricing structure, we do know it's in the hands of only a few developers and it currently costs $1,500. This obviously set a challenge for a startup in Italy that thinks it can do better, and at a cheaper price point of just $300 with a March 2014 delivery date. They've just kicked off a $150,000 Indiegogo campaign to fund the devices, but claim also to have already found private backing.

GlassUp is the name of this AR device and it promises a laundry list of services: Through its tiny on-glasses projector unit it will display

  • Emails, texts, and other status updates like calendar events and calls
  • Breaking news
  • Real-time feedback for sports activities
  • Turn-by-turn navigation instructions
  • Translations
  • Subtitles at the movies
  • Augmented information when at locations like a museum

There's also the promise of AR data for surgeons and the idea the wearable device can act as a hearing aid for the hearing impaired. Technically speaking the device is similar to Glass because it's an Android-powered second screen smartphone "companion," hooked up via Bluetooth, rather than a stand-alone phone. But while the team says its battery life is better and that it projects closer to the center of vision for less eye strain, it does have some limitations--mainly its monochrome screen. This is almost certainly a cost-saving move.

But GlassUp is deliberately distinguished from Glass by looking more like a regular pair of glasses and because it's a receive-only machine. That means there's no camera, and thus no privacy issues...although we guess that some of the snootier venues that have banned Glass already won't stop to check the difference.

It's definitely intriguing, and with a aviation-HUD engineer on board it'll likely work well. I'll be unsurprised if the team achieves its Indiegogo target. Color me slightly dubious about the future utility of GlassUp, however. It's going to come with APIs so developers can send the relevant data from phones to the wearer's eyes...but unless a miracle happens the device isn't going to sell by the ton. That means there's not going to be an enormous incentive for developers to invest time and effort on coding for GlassUp, versus coding for what's likely to be a more successful product from Google. Though it's cheaper than Google's developer editions of Glass, it's also functionally limited in some ways, and this fact is going to serve against its success.

Still, GlassUp confirms two important facts. First, we are going to see a ton of face-worn computing efforts that attempt to undercut or outmaneuver Google's product. Second, if there's going to be a thriving market for these products the only way developers will be able to profitably code for them is if someone develops a common API framework that will work between brands.