While consumer-focused companies work to develop smart glasses, Microsoft (MSFT) and Vuzix (VUZI) are making major strides with augmented reality headsets for enterprise applications. These developments could blaze a path for future consumer AR glasses.
Pure-play AR headset maker Vuzix has seen its stock surge in recent months following a flurry of announcements and positive analyst commentary.
Microsoft on March 2 announced an augmented reality platform that mixes its HoloLens AR headset with its Azure cloud computing infrastructure for virtual meetings. The platform, called Microsoft Mesh, creates immersive experiences by integrating people, places and content across physical and digital worlds.
Smart Glasses Called ‘Paradigm Shift In Computing’
Augmented reality glasses are considered the next major computing platform after smartphones. Much of the capabilities of smartphones could shift to head-worn displays and gear, analysts say. That includes making and receiving phone calls and text messages, getting directions and other applications. More advanced AR smart glasses could overlay information about people and objects into a wearer’s field of vision.
ABI Research estimates the augmented reality market will surpass $140 billion in 2025. That includes headset hardware, software and services. The market today is mostly enterprise-focused. Last year, the augmented reality headset market generated less than $10 billion in revenue.
“In enterprise, this technology is going to be everywhere in the future,” Vuzix Chief Executive Paul Travers told Investor’s Business Daily. “This paradigm shift in computing is going to impact the world in an amazing way.”
Pandemic Spurs Enterprise Interest In Augmented Reality
The Covid-19 pandemic has fueled interest in augmented reality headsets for remote assistance and training, Eric Abbruzzese, a research director at ABI Research, told IBD.
“Interest has skyrocketed,” he said.
With built-in cameras, AR headsets allow remote support staff to see what a worker on site is seeing. And on-site workers can get visual guidance from displays that are either off to the side or overlaid in their field of vision.
Key enterprise markets for AR headsets include medical, automotive, manufacturing, architecture, engineering and construction.
The top suppliers of enterprise headsets are Microsoft, RealWear and Vuzix, Abbruzzese said.
Moving From Test Phase To Wider Deployments
Enterprises are beginning to shift from the testing phase to wider deployments of the technology, he said. The rollouts have been slowed by the fact that the technology needs to be customized for specific industries and individual companies, Abbruzzese said.
Most enterprises are using augmented reality headsets with monocular displays. These smart glasses provide a glanceable display that workers can consult while repairing or servicing equipment. It’s like “YouTube Mr. Fix-It videos on steroids,” Matt Margolis, Vuzix director of business development and strategic relationships, told IBD.
Next-generation smart glasses will provide see-through displays that overlay schematics and other data on a person’s field of view. Vuzix is planning to launch consumer-focused next-gen smart glasses later this year.
But Apple and others have designs on the smart glasses market as well. They’ve been waiting on improvements in battery and display technology before jumping into the market.
Apple Smart Glasses Could Combine Device Functions
Apple likely sees smart glasses as a way to combine features of the Apple Watch brand smart watch and AirPods wireless earbuds in one product, Abbruzzese said. The device could provide glanceable notifications and telephony, as well as music controls using voice or simple touches or gestures.
“If there’s one company that could accelerate the market, it’s Apple,” Abbruzzese said.
Until then, enterprise applications will dominate the augmented reality market, he said.
Investor interest has been piqued by the promise of smart glasses as well.
Microsoft, Vuzix Making Waves In Augmented Reality
At its Ignite conference on March 2, Microsoft demonstrated its HoloLens device being used in surgeries, industrial training and remote collaboration. Its Mesh service will allow people to meet holographically with coworkers and interact with 3D models and other content.
Half of the Fortune 500 companies have purchased HoloLens 2 headsets, Alex Kipman, technology fellow at Microsoft, said at Ignite. The headsets, which went on sale a year ago, start at $3,500.
HoloLens customers include Airbus, Lockheed Martin, Mercedes and Toyota, Kipman said.
Meanwhile, Vuzix stock has risen steeply since it broke out of a cup base at a buy point of 5.41 on Dec. 15, according to IBD MarketSmith charts. It hit an all-time high 26.08 on March 2. ARK Invest and State Street have amassed sizable stakes in Vuzix stock lately.
Follow Patrick Seitz on Twitter at @IBD_PSeitz for more stories on consumer technology, software and semiconductor stocks.
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