Spotlight: Vuzix, an Enterprise Alternative to Google Glass

Google Glass might be the poster child for wearable devices, but its not the only smart glasses product hitting the market. At Metaios InsideAR event in Munich, I had the chance to sample Vuzixs M100 and M2000 devices.

“We have optic technology which goes beyond the microdisplays used in Glass,” says Dan Cui, vice president of business development at Vuzix.

Inside the transparent block which sits above a Glass wearers right eye, there is a small LCD screen, coupled with a magnifying prism. The size of the display as the user sees it is dependent on the size of this prism. Vuzix says it is working on an optical engine which does away with this LCD panel system, meaning it can scale down the technology required to achieve a larger display.

Trying on the M100 monocular – which resembles nothing more than an overgrown Bluetooth headset – this difference is apparent. After trying Glass a couple of months back, I find myself instinctively looking up and right for the display. Instead, the image sits more centrally in my eye, filling more of the field of vision.

With binocular vision – i.e., an individual display on each eye – apparently on its way, the possible applications for smart glasses open up. Cui says it could eliminate concerns about the safety of driving while using smart glasses, and enables the device to do Augmented Reality overlays. My demo centred around locating and scanning a box in a warehouse, with everything neatly highlighted on the screen.

The importance of being enterprise

Its rarely the technical superiority of a product which decides its success, however. Perhaps the biggest difference between Glass and Vuzix is that it is targeting the enterprise, rather than the consumer. It might sound like a small distinction, but it has an important knock-on effect.

“The M100 is a platform for development,” says Cui. “We give the customer everything they need to solve a problem, and they just write the code.”

Vuzix is strictly a hardware company, with its devices running a version of Android, meaning that its down to each customer to decide what they do with the technology. And as an enterprise device, a lot of the privacy concerns surrounding Glass shouldnt affect Vuzix – after all, whos concerned about someone taking surreptitious photos of them in a warehouse.

This could lead to a more flexible device, one thats more free to explore the potential of the smart glasses concept than Googles closed ecosystem will allow, which is good for the health of the wearables market. For Vuzix as a business, it also opens up a handy, lucrative niche:

“Unfortunately, the consumer market still hasnt matured to a point where you could consistently rely on selling these kinds of products,” Cui says. “Google Glass is doing a lot to change that, its got a lot of press, but the majority of the public still dont know about it. Meanwhile, with enterprise customers, we dont have to beat them over the head to adopt this technology – they already know the ROI.”

If Vuzix was to sell at retail, it would introduce a lot of extra headaches, like margins and distributors, which Google is going to have to face in the coming months. The biggest barrier to entry would probably be price. The companys chunkier M2000 model, set to go on sale before the end of the year, will cost around £6,000 – not something that would go down too well in your local Dixons or Sainsburys.

Making the jump

“We will sell to consumers, of course, but initially we want to make sure our margins are protected, and that we have growth,” he says. “This is the right choice for the short term.”

Vuzix does seem to have an eye on the long term, too. One of the steps towards the consumer-facing market its considering is venue-based events like the NFL and Nascar, both of which the company has been in discussions with. Users would be given the devices for the duration, to augment their experience and share with friends.

“Its a way to show the world the benefits of this technology,” says Cui, “rather than just waiting for them to catch up.”