The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft is still working on its own answer to Google Glass. Unnamed sources told the paper that the company is currently testing prototypes, and has asked several Asian component makers to supply cameras and other key components. The source said the device may never reach the market, but we know better than that.
"[Microsoft is] determined to take the lead in hardware manufacturing to make sure the company won't miss out on the opportunities in the wearable gadget market," the person told the paper.
We've heard this song and dance before. Back in April, analyst Brian White informed investors that Microsoft is expected to produce a working Google Glass alternative sometime in 2014. Unfortunately, he didn't provide any insider specifics, but we had hoped to see something appear during BUILD 2013 or E3 2013. That didn't happen, and there's a good chance the company will wait and see what the final Google Glass product will provide, and watch the resulting reaction by privacy advocates, before releasing its own solution.
"It appears to us that Google has made significant breakthroughs around software applications as it relates to this new product," he told investors. "As such, we believe this initiative will kick off a major push into the field of wearable electronics and therefore will be closely scrutinized."
Canalys analyst Daniel Matte told the paper that technology companies like Microsoft can't really afford to play the wait and see game in a rapidly growing wearables market. Both Samsung and Sony have already produced smartwatches, and Google, Apple and Microsoft are reportedly working on their own solutions. But whether the device is worn on the wrist or on the face, the tech wear industry will face challenges regarding strict power constraints limiting the number of sensors that can be added.
Back in August, Microsoft filed a patent describing a series of head-mounted display devices that may include OLED displays, voice interaction, eye-tracking, facial recognition technology, three accelerometers, and three gyroscopes to track the head movement of the wearer. It also mentions a possible design using transparent or partially transparent displays that sit on the user's face in the form of glasses.
According to the patent, outward-facing sensors would detect the wearer's environment, track the user's gestures, and locate other users in the same space. The patent has numerous mentions of a "time-of-flight depth camera" system similar to what's offered in Kinect 2.0. This may be used to scan the space to see what games are the most appropriate.
What made this patent interesting was that the wearer can use the specs outside, indicating that the wearable tech may be compatible with tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices, in addition to Xbox One and Windows 8. There's even a good chance the HMD, or Google Glass competitor, will run on a Windows Phone or RT platform.
Currently, Google is taking its Glass specs on a road trip across America to get possible customers more acquainted with the controversial tech. The specs runs at a hefty $1500 for the Explorer Edition, and so far the commercial version, which will be built in the United States, won't arrive until Summer 2014. So far an actual release date has not been set.