Introducing The First “Google Glass Killer”

8-20-2013 11-30-23 PM

In 2001, Palm introduced the Kyocera 6035, a hybrid device that combined the functions of a PDA with that of a mobile phone. It was the first commercially launched smartphone in the United States. After its launch, Palm went on to enjoy almost unchallenged market dominance for two years before, in 2003, Blackberry launched their first mobile smartphone at which point the smartphone market became a truly competitive landscape.

Fast forward a decade, and the pace in which technology markets mature can be starkly contrasted with the story of Google Glass. Google hasn’t even launched its product and technology writers are already looking to name its successor. In that spirit Wired magazine recently profiled the rise of Meta, an innovative glasses-based wearables startup that is working to build true augmented reality into a commercially viable product.

Meta has approached wearable glasses from an entirely different direction than Google Glass, and has as a result ended up with an entirely different product. The company set out to create a device that would operate in tandem with a personal computer to deliver a radically different human-to-computer experience.

What Meta does not do is text, place calls, or give directions. In a short interview with HIStalk Connect, Karen Kwan, VP of Logistics with Meta explained that traditional mobile tasks are not Meta’s focus. She says “we’re looking to replace computers rather than smartphones, so those types of applications aren’t our primary goals,” she adds that in time, as the industry as a whole continues to miniaturize components, those functions would be added. In the meantime, Meta is focusing on augmented reality and an alternative user experience to the laptop.

In this spirit, Meta is building a compelling prototype to disrupt the personal computer market. Meta has developed a pair of glasses that project information into the field of vision, where users can manipulate them, and move them around their environment. Users would be able to drag and pin windows to various surfaces, like a wall, or a table top, or simply allow them to hover in place. Initially, users will be presented with a QWERTY swype keyboard for data entry, but the goal of Meta is to engage app developers to add apps to the Meta app store that will provide niche augmented reality functionality, like 3-D sculpting, or gesture-driven architectural design. Essentially moving the user experience away from keyboards and into a generally more interactive workspace.

The true feel of augmented reality comes from transparent LCD displays housed within the glass, and two stereoscopic projectors built into the frames. Cameras housed within the ridge of the glasses power the gesture recognition that culminates in the augmented reality experience.

Meta’s glasses run a Windows 8 OS, with Windows 7 in the works. Linux and iOS are being evaluated, according to Kwan, but timelines haven’t been established on when those operating systems would be compatible. User authentication methods, an area that Google Glass has received criticism over, will be handled through its 3-D keyboard and potentially other methods prior to its commercial release, so enterprise customers should feel as secure with Meta glasses running on their network as they would any other windows-based computer.

In digital health, Meta’s augmented reality glasses hold huge potential for the highly-coveted gamification of exercise and fitness apps. No form factor yet has proven to be capable of delivering a user experience engaging enough to get players to run and exercise and embrace the game for more than a session or two. Researchers and developers have universally targeted this goal as having real potential to help fight childhood obesity.

In hospitals and practices, Meta can access and display any browser-based information, such as Citrix hosted EHR software. Here users can interact with patient data in a secure, sterile, and HIPAA-compliant manner. Charts can be navigated, orders can be placed, and documents can be signed using a touch-free 3-d keyboard or gesture recognition.

Meta is currently shipping units to developers to build up its app store. The company has raised more than $600,000 in unit sales from the developer models it is shipping. The company will spend the coming months refining its user interface and building up its app store in preparation for its commercial launch, at which point, Google may find itself in the same boat Palm did some 10 years ago, suddenly competing to stay relevant in a market it invented.

  • kylesamani

    hey Lt Dan

    Glass and Meta don’t really compete. They fall at very different points of the eyeware transparency computing spectrum:

    http://kylesamani.com/blog/2013/4/23/the-defining-characteristic-of-eyeware-computers-transparency

    Also notice that Meta’s videos are all indoors. Nothing outdoors. They know that no one will wear that device outdoors because it’s extremely obtrusive. Glass on the other hand, is not too obtrusive.

  • kylesamani

    My company, Pristine, bought the first 2 units of Meta on KickStarter. We’ll have them in about 4 weeks 🙂

  • Lt. Dan

    Hi Kyle

    The quotes around “google glass killer” was a perhaps too subtle attempt at mocking the premature excitement associated with Meta. It’s just like how every phone since iPhone has been the next iPhone killer.

    Still, I’d argue that they’ll inevitably compete because most consumers interested in glasses as a factor will do their research but inevitably they’ll just go with one device or the other. So Glass sales will dampen Meta sales and vica versa. Its unlikely that many consumers would buy one of each. What they’d do is look at both the cost, functionality, and limitations associated with them and buy whichever one fits their needs/interests best. To your average consumer they’re both wearable computers in a glasses form factor.

    What Meta has going for it is that it’s tackling augmented reality in a much more direct manner which is exciting and what many people thought google was doing with glass early on. Either way, the prototypes were seeing now will pale in comarison to the more robust second and third generation models we’ll see five years from now. The evolution of this new form factor should be awesome!

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