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Opinion

Has Lenovo found the ultimate business use case for smart glasses?

Lenovo’s T1 smart glasses offer a virtual desktop that only you can see

A photograph of the Lenovo T1

Smart glasses are one of those technologies that just refuses to die. Companies like Microsoft and Google have had a crack at it, with varying degrees of success, and here we are in 2022, with high-tech eyewear still not quite in the mainstream. 

The history of virtual reality goes all the way back to the late 50s, though the term was actually coined in 1987 by author and technologist Jaron Lanier. Along with AR (augmented reality), VR has primarily centred around gaming and immersive experiences, but there is a feeling that we’re entering a new age of VR thanks to the sudden emergence of the so-called ‘metaverse’. Meta (née Facebook) is leading the charge here, though I have to say what Meta presents as the ‘metaverse’ looks an awful lot like characters and backgrounds from Wii sports.

However, if we leave the low-quality avatars and cartoon landscape to one side, there are other use cases for smart glasses that can benefit businesses and remote workers. One example was presented by Lenovo with the announcement of its new T1 smartglasses, which were revealed at IFA in Berlin. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to have a full hands-on session with the T1 glasses; instead, I got about three minutes with them at the Showstoppers consumer trade event, where Lenovo had a presentation table. 

With the device in hand, my immediate impression was that they looked a little stupid and, to be fair, most smart eyewear prototypes are unattractive. Part of the reason, for me, is that they’re an ugly mix of sunglasses and VR headsets. The T1s themselves aren’t as large as the latter, but they’re a little bit like bulky Ray Bans. Nowhere near as svelte as Meta’s ‘Ray Ban Stories’. 

The T1 works with a smartphone or a laptop and according to Lenovo, this will include MacBooks. The two prototypes the company had on display were hooked up to an Android handset via a USB cable. Presumably, they will eventually be wireless, but the display of the smartphone screen is transported to the glasses with the cable. The phone's display then switches to a trackpad so you can move a cursor around a screen that you can see through the glasses, essentially making the phone a mouse.

I played around with it for a few minutes and asked various questions - and you know what? It was just straight-up cool. Cool in a way that I could actually see the use cases or the reason for it, not like foldable phones, which still seem like an answer to a question no one asked. This felt like a future technology that had reached the now. I had the graphics of a smartphone in my eyes, a virtual desktop that only I could see. I felt like flipping Iron Man. 

Said desktop moved with my head, but there was also a button on the arm of the glasses that I could click to keep the content in a single place. What’s more, it doesn’t block your peripheral vision and you can still see the real world beyond the graphics. Now, I can’t say how good this is for working on documents or typing, but for controlling a smartphone UI and watching a quick video, it was great. How this will operate with a laptop screen is still a mystery, but I like the idea of having a screen that literally no one but me can see. It’s complete privacy in that regard, which will make your sensitive work that little bit safer when in public. Lenovo told me that it’s predominantly going to be aimed at the consumer, with a release date estimated at early 2024 and a price tag that will be under £400. 

However, while I was clearly sold on the idea of a desktop for my eyes only, I still recognise that this in itself may come with issues. For starters, it’s an immersive technology and that might not be a good fit for work, particularly as more and more of us are apparently doing an increasing amount of our work remotely. The idea that you can do your job in a virtual space and essentially ignore the outside world seems like a fast track to burnout and isolation. For now, though, I’m content with the idea of a virtual interface that only I can see. I just wished they didn’t make me look like actual glasses. 

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