Intel to Shut Down Smart Glasses Group
The Information reported this week (N.B. paywall) that Intel is intent on shutting down its wearables group and the voice-interactive Vaunt smarts glasses will be a casualty. The article reports:
“The chip giant’s new devices group will shut down, according to people familiar with the situation. The division, formed in 2013, made fitness trackers and smart glasses. Despite an investment of several hundred million dollars by Intel, including through acquisitions of other companies, the group never made much of an impact in the wearables market.”
The Verge’s Dieter Böhn had done a very interesting video story in February highlighting some of the glasses features. In retrospect, this move by Intel to provide Böhn access to review the Vuant was part of the company’s attempt to generate interest by third parties in either a co-investment or acquisition of the technology.
Bloomberg was reporting around that time that Intel was looking to sell its wearables and augmented reality group and had valued the division at $350 million. It appears no co-investment or acquirer was found. There may be as many as 200 people in the group that are expected to either find roles in other areas of Intel or face layoffs. Intel said in a statement to The Information:
[Intel is] continuously working on new technologies and experiences. Not all of these develop into a product we choose to take to market…We keep inventing and exploring new technologies, which will sometimes require tough choices when market dynamics don’t support further investment.
Bringing Smart Devices to Market is Hard
This incident will no doubt elicit comparisons to Google Glass and its ill-fated market flirtation. Rumors abound that Amazon is working on a glasses that include Alexa integration. Start-up LET Lab has an Indigogo campaign for Alexa-enabled glasses that raised nearly $180,000 in pre-orders in January 2018 and promises to start shipping product next month. Intel didn’t even attempt to commercialize the product and clearly was unsure of market demand. Issues faced by Google with Glass and Apple with HomePod show that commercialization may be just as hard as getting the technology right. Commercialization is especially true when you don’t get the technology right. Amazon Echo and Google Home are examples where the technology and commercialization were right and consumer demand was primed. It’s not often that all of these factors come together at the same time.
Smart glasses appear to be an inevitability based on the acceleration of voice and AR technology combined with growing ubiquity of mobile broadband connections. Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple all have a legitimate shot at making this a popular and sustainable product category. Intel is not a consumer-facing company and the commercialization step was likely to be a challenge they were not willing to face. This just leaves the market wide-open for a startup to swoop in and build the market from the ground up. Maybe the next billion-dollar startup in this space will come from a dorm room or garage instead of a citadel of technology innovation like Intel.