The market share for the futuristic glasses that Google (GOOG) plans to release by the end of 2013 is rather hard to predict. When I try to come up with a number, I continuously think back to Apple's (AAPL) iPhone release, though this is much different. People don't yet know if they need a "head-mounted display apparatus" as Sony (SNE) describes it in its patent.
Perhaps a closer comparison would be the iPad? A product which people had no need for--at the time. Sure enough, it went on to sell over 100 million. And people found uses for the iPad that smartphones and laptops were not ideal for.
So, the question doth remain: Is there room in the market for futuristic glasses? Let's start with the price. Sony hasn't released any info on their respective glasses, but Google Glass is rumored to cost around $1500. iPhones and iPads are expensive, but they are not $1500. Normally I'd say that this significantly lowers the potential market share, but it is not yet known where the consumer base will come from. Militaries from many countries could end up being big purchasers, as well as many educational institutions. Still, the driving force behind a truly large and long lasting market will have to inevitably lead through the individual consumer. And at this point, it feels reckless to essentially guess one way or the other.
Still, any nascent and untapped market with a fair amount of hoopla will have profits waiting for the victor. And who might that be? To be clear, relevant patents have been filed by Apple, Google, Microsoft (MSFT), and Sony. Right now, everyone's talking about Google, and their glasses seem to have the only certain release date. The question is, who among Apple, Microsoft, and Sony can rumble with Google?
I'm going to go against the social and tech trends and speculate that Sony might have the best chance to defeat Google Glass.
I know. Sony. The one time dominant force in electronics. A shell of their former selves. The company that makes people do the opposite of "I wonder what they're coming out with next." But bear with me here. We're not talking search or email. We're talking electronics. The glasses product is more similar to the PS3 and a plasma TV than it is to search or Gmail. Remember that.
Sony's patent, filed in November 2012, was granted this past week. The first obvious difference between Sony and Google's glasses are the eyes. Google is currently going with a pirate version, meaning only one eye will show information to the viewer. Sony will carry lenses for both eyes, ostensibly providing the viewer with information in both eyes. People may differ as to their eye preferences, but Google's eye patch form seems more unnerving. Sure, one might argue that the glasses wearer will want to have a free eye to see what's around him, but remember, we don't yet know the full scale and purpose for these glasses. Also, look carefully at the lenses in Sony's glasses:
(click to enlarge)
Each lens has its own battery pack. This would imply that the viewer has a screen not only for both eyes, but the option for each eye. So if a Google Glass customer has a twitchy red eye or inflammation in his or her right eye, then it could be bothersome:
Granted, Google's frames obscure the face significantly less, and, as the stereotype with Sony seems to be these days, their product seems just a bit overdone, at least compared to Google's.
And yet, I have a sense that Sony has more than your average Google competitor's puncher's chance here, due to some experience they have in this field. Sony was the first company to launch the useful caption glasses, which provides captions for movies to individuals with eye problems.
Additionally, from a hardware perspective, Sony has a shot. Their Playtation series defeated Microsoft and Nintendo (OTCPK:NTDOY). And in terms of TV's, Sony has a colorful history, but right now, technically has the greatest television set that is currently available for purchase. Granted, a $25,000 4k television set seems a bit overdone, and I'll agree that Sony's history has proven to be one of incredible technology, hamstrung by overthinking and unexciting production. However, for this particular product, overthinking might take the cake. For someone to spend $1500 on glasses, specs are key. And leave it to Sony to go overboard on specs. I believe that Sony has the tools, experience, and the timing to take on Google Glass.
The question now turns into one of timing and market share. Can Sony get a product off the ground by the end of 2013? And if so, will the consumer base be enough for them to take a healthy portion of the pie? Let's see.