Smart glasses are coming. But will we ever embrace them as everyday wear?

To actually reach the mainstream, smart glasses must appeal to both the fashion-forward and the everyday consumer.
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Smart glasses are coming. But will we ever embrace them as everyday wear?

With the announcement of Apple Vision Pro, a future where smart glasses replace our phones just got a bit more real.

But once fully transparent head mounted displays get light enough and functional enough to venture outside of the walls of our homes or offices, will their form factor be compelling enough to become permanent fixtures on our faces?

Allow me to introduce you to the tech industry’s biggest dream — fully transparent AR glasses. A vision of a future where the physical and the digital merge into one. There’s no more screens, only a digital overlay on top of our physical world that lets us interact with it in ways previously unimaginable.

As Apple has entered the game with their recent announcement of their first mixed-reality headset, this future feels a bit less far-fetched. The device, priced at $3499, is currently focused on at-home and in-office use. Of course, many companies have been working on similar tech for a while, but historically Apple has been the company that manages to help the public better understand use cases and benefits of new tech, legitimising its value and normalising its existence in everyday life. I think that’s why this announcement feels so significant. It’s reminiscent of the iPod moment. And given what the iPod was to the iPhone, it’s likely the Vision Pro will one day be ‘just’ a predecessor to more advanced and mainstream-ready device — a fully transparent head mounted display that can overlay digital information onto the user’s field of view, whilst still allowing them to see the physical world in front of them.

Another tech giant is paving its way towards this future. In the words of Mark Zuckerberg, Meta believes that “glasses are gonna be an important part of building the next computing platform and unlocking a whole new set of experiences for people''. In their four-year roadmap, Meta says they plan to release their first part of smart glasses with a display in 2025, alongside a neural interface smartwatch designed to control them. Their first pair of full-fledged AR glasses, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg has predicted will eventually be as widely used as mobile phones, is planned for 2027. The race is on.

A piece of tech…on my face?

The coming years will be a fascinating journey of figuring out how this new piece of tech fits into our lives. Never before has tech come so close to being the first thing people see when they look at you. Just last month, I ventured on the dreaded journey of having to pick a pair of prescription glasses for myself. Somehow this task has become the bane of my existence since I first found out I needed to wear glasses at 16. I can never find something that doesn’t interfere with my perception of self. How does one find a pair of glasses that accommodate all our states, from taking the trash out in your sweats or running errands in an everyday fit to going out for dinner in something a tad fancier? Should I have a few different pairs for different occasions? Also, how do I find a pair that elevates my personal style, but at the same time does not interfere with my vision with - for example - bulky frames? All these questions paralysed me to an extent where for most of my life I chose blurry vision over a stylistic choice that didn’t feel “me”.

Point is, making a decision about an accessory that will permanently reside on your face is a very vulnerable task. Regardless of how indifferent some people might feel about fashion and trends, we all have a personal style that communicates to the world who we are. So if we’re to see a future where smart glasses replace our phones, we should start thinking about them in the category of fashion and beauty in equal measure as we do in the category of hardware. Their form factor will be a crucial consideration in establishing the device as a ubiquitous accessory for everyday use on our faces.

So what would smart glasses have to look like for people to wear them regularly? Will they accommodate our deeply personal and unique stylistic choices? Or will their arrival be a catalyst for entirely changing the way we dress?

Consumer tech is never just tech.

From phone cases to stickers on our laptops. Custom-built mechanic keyboards to smartwatch wristbands. Humans customise everything. Hell, you can even engrave your AirTag with your initials and dress it up in a $349 Hermes keyring. It seems only logical we will expect a piece of tech that goes onto our faces to be reflective of our personal taste.

Previous attempts at making smart glasses look fashionable give us an interesting insight into how this might come to life. Mind you, for many of the existing case studies the full functionality of what we imagine smart glasses to enable isn’t there to begin with, but in my opinion it’s the form factor that really seems to be overlooked when it comes to making a compelling case for mainstream appeal.

In most cases, either the hardware dictates too much of the final design, or the device doesn’t come in a wide enough variety of options to choose from. Take the Ray-Ban Stories as an example. The glasses, launched 2021 in partnership with Facebook, make it possible to capture photos and video, listen to music or take phone calls all without taking out your phone. The companies collaborated together to integrate smart technology into what they call an “iconic form factor,” working with existing shapes that don’t scream tech gadget when worn.

But if the main premise of the device is staying connected and being able to spontaneously capture my life at any point without taking out my phone, this means I would have to wear these glasses all the time. And while the Wayfarers are an iconic model, they’re certainly not for everyone, and certainly far from the current eyewear trends to appeal to the fashion-forward crowd. Everyday wear is a very broad category to exist in. Some companies, like MagicLeap, rightfully chose to free themselves from the restrictions of social acceptability of their devices, and instead focused on enterprise use cases, where a dorky form factor doesn’t take away from the practicality of the tool itself.


The big challenge is that eyewear trends, like all fashion trends today, are changing at an increasingly rapid pace. Just a couple of years ago, it was all about the tiny 90’s glasses. Big frames were passé. Today, we’re drowning in the sea of microtrends. The big 70s look is partially back in, but maybe more importantly so is the strong influence of Y2K fashion — and with that, the rise of the racer-chic frame, and the iconic brand Oakley leading the way.

Interestingly, from an actual everyday wearability standpoint given the current state of the tech, the most fitting audience to test the waters with seems to be the techwear community — an aesthetic niche defined by the love for garments that provide next-level functionality, and high-quality innovative materials that can protect from the elements; all wrapped up in a futuristic, cyberpunk-ish aesthetic. The overlap between the interests of the technical wear crowd and smart glasses is almost too perfect. In fact, ACRONYM - the brand that launched the functional clothing obsession - has been experimenting with functional yet fashionable integrations of tech as part of their clothing for a while now. Yet, if we look at the current smart eyewear landscape, we’ll see a sea of generic-looking frames that lack personality and simply don’t have the potential to appeal to the more discerned eye.

So will we all be wearing smart glasses in the future?

At the moment, the recipe for success in this space seems to be about the perfect combination of a practical use case that enhances our existing interactions with the physical world and a form factor that fits those circumstances. This is probably why the most successful case study of consumer-ready smart glasses can be found in sportswear. Smart swimming goggles like FORM or smart endurance glasses like Engo make data glanceable in the natural field of view to athletes during performance, eliminating the need for checking your smart watch. But beyond the very convincing practical use, sports glasses are generally kind of ‘in’ right now, plus they’re already an integral part of the full cycling, swimming or running look anyway. If anything, these make you look cooler. It’s sporting gear made for the future-forward athlete.

What does this all tell us about the future? Some think that one day we’ll all be wearing smart lenses (though the task of figuring out how to make it work feels very daunting). But even if that turns out to be the case, people will probably need quite a few years of something less invasive before they’re comfortable with augmenting their bodies with hardware. And knowing how deeply personal our choice of eyewear is, I think that real mainstream-level adoption requires that someone finds a way to make any glasses into smart glasses with minimal impact on their looks. Only time will tell.