Amazon is reportedly researching “smart glasses” that will leverage Alexa, its voice-activated digital assistant.
According to a report in the Financial Times, the device won’t resemble Google Glass, which comes with a built-in screen and camera; instead, it will limit functionality to interacting with Alexa. Amazon’s hardware will use bone conduction to transmit Alexa’s voice to the user’s ear without the need for an earpiece.
In theory, a pair of “normal” glasses enhanced with A.I. might attract users who found Google Glass and its bulbous camera-screen rig a little too weird or intimidating. A lack of hardware features would also allow Amazon to offer the glasses at a lower price-point. (It’s an open question whether Amazon’s glasses would be indistinguishable from a pair of “regular” eyeglasses, like the ones above.)
On the flip side, though, a lack of hardware features might limit the device’s functionality, which in turn could drive away some early adopters. Why bother buying a stripped-down pair of A.I.-enabled glasses, those tech fans might think, when you already have phones, living-room devices, and laptops with digital assistants—and lots of other features—baked in?
But as pointed out before, Amazon needs a popular device that takes Alexa out of the living room (its current sphere of dominance, thanks to the Echo) and into the broader world, where it can leverage new universes of data. Unlike Apple and Google, which can integrate their respective digital assistants into their popular mobile operating systems, Amazon has no branded smartphone—its one attempt at such a device, the Fire Phone, died an ignoble death soon after its release in 2014.
Short of taking another stab at a phone, wearables might represent Amazon’s best chance to stuff its digital assistant with new kinds of sweet, sweet data.
If Amazon does launch a pair of “smart glasses,” it won’t be alone in the A.I.-enhanced wearables market: Google is reportedly researching a pair of “smart headphones” that will house its own digital assistant; the blog 9to5Google recently discovered references to that hardware in the beta code of the new Google app. And Apple is supposedly hard at work on eyeglasses that might power augmented reality (AR) experiences.