Alexa is now a staple feature in many households thanks to the popularity of Amazon’s own-brand Echo range of smart speakers. However, the virtual assistant service could soon become still more ubiquitous in a portable context, thanks to the creation of smart specs which come with Alexa functionality integrated as standard.
The Verge reports that Amazon has been showcasing a new gadget called Echo Frames, which as the name suggests, is a pair of glasses which aim to do a lot more than average eyewear.
But does this point to a bright new future in which smart glasses feature heavily, or is this a development that may end up failing to make it into the mainstream, as with Google Glass before it.
Features & potential
There is little doubting the premium build quality that Amazon is delivering with Echo Frames. The glasses are made using a combination of high-end materials, including titanium and carbon fibre, which should make them relatively robust; although having gadget insurance may be advisable, given the ease with which we already damage non-smart glasses!
The smart capabilities of the glasses are reliant on a connection to a compatible Android mobile device, and for the time being there is no integration for Apple handsets, which could deter a significant percentage of potential users.
The look of the glasses is somewhat compromised by the fact that Amazon’s engineers have had to cram a lot of tech into the arms which, as a result, seem to be significantly chunkier and thicker than those of standard specs. However, there are integrated speakers to add to the appeal, meaning that wearers will not need separate earphones on all of the time to listen to Alexa’s responses to their questions.
Battery life may be another concern, since the Echo Frames can last for 14 hours on standby, which is fine for day to day use, yet will only be able to play audio for 3 hours before requiring a charge.
More significantly, the glasses are not offered with prescription lenses as standard; instead, buyers will need to take their pair to their nearest optician to have the correct lenses added. This introduces an element of third party involvement which might be problematic from a warranty perspective, again potentially fuelling the argument for cheap gadget insurance.
Being able to ask Alexa questions and use the features it offers to control other smart devices while on the move is certainly an interesting idea, one which the Echo Frames aim to fulfil.
The main issue seems to be that there is no established demand for this type of device and in the short term, its availability will be limited to Amazon’s offer of invitational purchasing, meaning that only a limited number of customers will be asked if they want to part with around £150 for a pair.
Smart glasses may very well one day become the norm. The question is whether Amazon’s timing will put it in the vanguard of a major new market sector, or whether Echo Frames will end up consigned to the history books as a short-sighted odyssey.