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When Google does something different, it gets people’s attention. Google Glass got people’s attention as a wearable, augmented reality computer that was small, lightweight, and relatively easy to use. Since Google’s release of Google Glass to developers, other VR and augmented reality devices have been announced. I’ve touched on one or two, including Microsoft’s HoloLens. Now, lots of smaller players are entering the fray and the stated comparisons are getting a bit blurred between the devices.
This week, it was brought to my attention that a small company has released “the alternative to Google Glass that you can actually afford.” The company, Vufine, has launched a KickStarter for the device. Although I’d like to start by saying lots of great things about what this device, I am led to talk about my disappointment with the device’s marketing first. I was disappointed to see that the marketing materials focused on comparing this new device to Google Glass. They even state “Vufine kicks Google right in their glASS” A comparison to Google glass was presented to me that pointed out differences, such as:
- Google Glass offers a limited number of apps.
- This device is a reasonable $149 versus Google Glass’ $1500
- Google Glass is only used with Android mobile and Vufine works with any existing HDMI device.
That makes Vufine sound great. For $149, a device that supposedly competes with Google Glass sounds like a device worth checking out!
When you take a look at this device, you will quickly notice that it is not comparable to Google Glass, after all. The Vufine is actually only a hands free, wearable display. Comparing Vufine to Google Glass is like comparing a Microsoft Surface or an Apple iPad to a simple computer monitor. Yes, the monitor is cheaper, and you can use the monitor on a variety of computers; however, it is only a monitor! As such, implying my monitor is better than a full featured tablet computer is a crazy comparison because I can’t do anything with my monitor without attaching a cable from it into something that actually gives it life. In short, unlike Google Glass, the Vufine is simply a monitor with no brains!
Read the Fine Print
As more devices enter the market in the virtual reality and augmented reality space, it will be important to make sure you are aware of what the devices are. Even though it is easy to see the difference between Vufine and Google Glass once you look past the marketing, some devices entering the market aren’t as clearly differentiated. There now are numerous VR headsets on the market that look a lot like an Oculus Rift. These devices, however, are not equivalent. Most don’t include actual screens, but rather expect you to insert your cell phone. Many require specific cell phones. As such, they are a case with no brains.
As an example, the Ziess VR One Virtual Reality Headset includes a description on Amazon that provides for “Optics” described as actually a part of the design, not as actual screen optics. It includes a listing for tracking sensors, but then states that this is done by internal smartphone sensors, which means the device itself doesn’t have them. Similarly, it provides for augmented reality by having a see-through shield that lets you use the camera in your phone. Ultimately, when you read through the marketing, what you find are a lot of buzzwords that ultimately say this is a $129 device that holds your smartphone. There are a lot of $39 devices that do the same thing. Unlike the Oculus Rift and true VR devices, none of these have screens or computing power, and thus all are simply VR phone cases. You could just as easily have spent a few dollars and bought the cardboard equivalent!
Beyond the VR Hype
As you see devices come to market, it is important to determine what the technical features really are. If I ignore the marketing hype and focus on the devices mentioned in this article based on what they actually do, I find that they are all interesting devices in their own right. In fact, the Vufine device would have gotten my attention as an interesting small-sized, portable monitor without ever trying to compare it in the potentially misleading way that was done. Had I not gone to Vufine’s Kick Start page looking for a Google Glass-like device, I would have been very pleased by what I saw. I ended disappointed in that I was led astray.
The Vufine is an extremely small monitor that can be placed in front of the eye. It can be attached to a pair of glasses for easy use. The small size, the portability, the ability to interface via a mini-HDMI port, all combined with what seems like a reasonable cost make this an interesting monitor to consider. If you connect it to your mobile device, you can actually mimic a lot of what the Google Glass device can do. You’ll end up with a cable running from the device to your smartphone or device, but you’ll still be able to have the screen in front of your eye and you’ll be able to have the portability.
Avoiding the Hype in Your Own Marketing
The lesson for developers is to make sure you don’t oversell your applications or products. Overselling can hurt you as much as underselling. Flappy Birds wasn’t sold as the next best Mario Brothers game. It was pitched as a simple, but difficult side-scroller game. If your product is good, you shouldn’t have to bend perception to get attention. You had a reason for creating it, focus on those reasons and don’t let all the buzz terms and current market hype taint what is otherwise potentially a great product.