By Kim Yoo-chul
"Smart glasses" are emerging as the next big thing for leading technology companies, such as Samsung, Sony and Google, amid the gloomy outlook for conventional devices.
Google Glass isn't the only smart handset. This year's tech fair in Las Vegas provided a glimpse into new technology trends with firms offering their versions of wearable devices.
This year will see the emergence of many of these, according to market analysts and company officials, because they will create new business opportunities amid connectivity between hardware and software.
Just as smart watches emerged as a key theme at the U.S. fair, smart glasses may become the savior of hungry tech companies with U.S.-based software giant Google currently leading the way.
Competition in the new market is expected to get hotter.
"The reason is simple. The market potential for smart glass is huge. It will be used in trucks, cars and has a greater impact on related industries such as glass- and coatings-makers," said an official at Samsung Electronics.
An executive at Google's local parts supplier recently told The Korea Times that "Google Glass" will be commercially available to general users by the latter half of this year as Google is in the final stage of receiving responses from some 2,000 testers before the device's official debut.
"It will be interesting to see which companies get better stakes in the race for smart glasses. Players definitely want to enjoy a ‘first-mover' advantage in this new and highly lucrative market," according to the official.
Japan's Sony is the latest challenger in ambitiously unveiling its smart glasses, and now Samsung Electronics is ready to join the market.
Since 2011, the Korean technology powerhouse has gradually been shifting its focus to market creation from moneymaking and the company will be consistent in pursuing that redefined strategy, said Samsung Electronics Chief Financial Officer Lee Sang-hoon at a recent meeting with analysts.
The company is currently developing its smart glasses, tentatively called "Galaxy Glass" with the goal of launching the product at this year's IFA fair in Berlin at the earliest, according to officials.
Samsung has already registered a patent in Korea, according to the Korea Intellectual Property Office.
The device would link with a smartphone to display alerts on a transparent or translucent lens, allowing users to take phone calls and listen to music, which is similar to Galaxy Gear in terms of functionality.
Samsung Electronics is collaborating with Samsung Display, a display-making affiliate, to source displays for the glasses.
"The new smart glass to be introduced by Samsung is a new concept of wearable device that can lead to an exciting culture of communication. The smart glass will present our aim to lead the new market with proven capability. Wearable devices can't generate profits immediately. Steady releases of devices are showing our firm commitment as a leader in new markets," said the official.
"Because wearable devices are kind of accessories, design is a major factor. Samsung smart glasses should be simple and appealing on the surface. As wearable devices are a part of daily life for consumers, they will help raise brand awareness," said Kim Jin-san, an analyst at Kium Securities, a local brokerage.
Sony is planning to upgrade its smart glasses, as well, according to officials at the Las Vegas fair. Chinese companies are investing heavily to launch their wearable device businesses.
The Korea Information Society Development Institute (KISDI) expects the market for wearable devices to expand to $6 billion by 2016 as wearable devices represented by watches and glasses emerge as the next-generation of mobile technology that can replace smartphones.
"One interesting point is that the technology industry is seeing its new growth by partnering with the automotive industry," said an official at KISDI.
He continued; "Smart glasses will widely be used in cars and trucks. Self-tinting glass, self-cleaning glass, self-healing glass and automotive display glass are the things. Latest trends in automotive infotainment systems are urging Samsung, Google and Sony to put more resources into smart glasses."