Nascent technologies are sometimes described as solutions in the search for a problem, and that is something that could be said for AR glasses at this time. AR goggles have positioned themselves as everything from phone replacements to sports eyewear, entertainment devices and work tools, but they are still far from the mainstream in any area.
That latest value proposition is what Toshiba is looking for with its new DynaEdge AR Smart Glasses, a new screen mounted on the head attached to the pocket of a PC. The PC maker is launching the product today, starting at $ 1899, and targeting business users directly.
Calling this product AR Glasses is a bit inappropriate. it's not so much an augmented reality as a hand-to-hand visualization. Toshiba says it sees it more as an "assisted reality" than as an increase. And the part of "glasses" is really a single arm that can be attached to different form factors, be it glasses, safety glasses or a helmet. All the processing power occurs in a Toshiba DynaEdge mini PC that is attached to the screen arm via USB-C. (Something similar to Microsoft HoloLens, on the other hand, is a full Windows 10 PC that sits in your head).
But Toshiba's goal is to sell something that allows workers to view documents and PDF files, record and send photos, and even launch remote video chats directly from the headset, all without having to use their hands.
Photo of Tyler Pina / The Verge
The DynaEdge Mobile Mini PC was launched last August, so that part is not new. The configuration I briefly showed was running on Windows 10 and had an Intel Core M processor, six gigabytes of RAM, 512 gigabytes of internal storage, and is supposed to last up to six hours on a single charge. The mini PC also has a group of five physical buttons, but once again, the idea is not to have to manually control the PC.
Instead, you're supposed to use a touch slider or voice control on the head-mounted display arm, the "glasses" part of the equation. The arm also has a proximity sensor, ambient light sensor and LED light; GPS, a compass and a gyroscope; camera, speaker and microphone; and of course, the screen, a screen the size of a quarter of an inch by 640 by 360.
Not all functions worked on the preproduction unit I tried, including the slide pad and voice control. So I mainly browsed the small Windows desktop in the upper corner of my view by using the buttons on the mini PC in my hand.
Photo of Tyler Pina / The Verge
I also did not think the dynaEdge AR glasses were super comfortable in the short time I used them. It was challenging to really see the screen in a way that did not make me feel a little cross-eyed. Fortunately, the arm of the screen is adjustable and can be changed to the left side of the face for people with the dominant left eye. Once I did that, they felt a little more comfortable. (Attaching the arm to a more stable helmet, instead of a pair of flimsy frames, also helped).
I was able to make a trial phone call over WiFi, using a Toshiba application developed on Skype for Business. I called a "remote colleague" – actually a representative from Toshiba sitting on the other side of the remote – and sent him a picture from the headset, which he was able to dial. This is something Toshiba expects will be used for remote problem resolution. I was also able to see a PDF of several parts of a jet engine, with the idea that a worker can quickly confirm the name or location of an engine part.
This type of work-centered use case for personal computers may not be as exciting as drone or volumetric basketball games broadcast live, but Toshiba is not alone in thinking that applications in the workplace could be the fastest route to widespread adoption. If that is the case, it all comes down to execution: how well the product works, and if your application will be screwed up, the reduced versions of desktop applications or the new intuitive applications that people will really want to use.
But that future, for now, is as clear as a small Windows desktop that hangs over the corner of one eye.