For some time now, I’ve predicted that electronic eyewear would gain widespread adoption among consumers and become an important tool for eyecare professionals and optical suppliers. However, my initial enthusiasm has been tempered by the realization that consumers have been slower to embrace electronic eyewear—whether it’s virtual reality and augmented reality systems, wellness devices and assisted vision devices—than many tech experts expected.
“Adoption is a bit slower than anticipated,” confirms Sara Bonizio, marketing director for Metro Optics, a New York City chain that was one of the first optical retailers to dispense electronic eyewear. “We think that’s primarily due to privacy concerns, and also that to date, many models aren’t terribly attractive.
“But with the advent of Snapchat Spectacles, which integrates a wildly popular social platform with a much more attractive design than other prior models and has easy online ordering plus an accessible price point, we may start to see a shift toward increased purchases in the consumer space.”
Matt Alpert, OD, an early adopter of Google Glass, remains bullish about electronic eyewear’s potential, despite the failure of Glass to catch on with consumers.
“Glass was ahead of its time,” Alpert told me recently. “It was a powerful tool that could do a lot of things. Google was a little aggressive in marketing it, but the form factor wasn’t right. Public reception was mixed, and it became a joke.”
Like Bonizio, Alpert believes that style—which tech types call form factor—is a critical element for consumers who are deciding whether or not to purchase electronic eyeglasses.
An independent practitioner who is on the board of VSP Global, Alpert has high hopes for Level, a next-generation wearable developed by The Shop, the innovation lab run by VSP Global. The battery-powered, Bluetooth-enabled specs sport an on-board accelerometer, magnetometer and gyroscope. But VSP has packaged the technology into a fashionable frame, which is a critical factor, according to Alpert. “Level looks like a good-looking pair of glasses,” he notes, adding, “Combining fashion with function is the Holy Grail. People will want to wear it, and the floodgates will open.”
As the next generation of eyewear wearables emerges, expect to see a better balance of form and function.
• Andrew Karp
Group Editor, Lenses and Technology