Are Consumers Ready for Facial Technology? Amazon Bets On It With Smart Glasses

The Alexa-enabled eyewear seeks to succeed where Google Glass failed

Woman wearing Amazon Echo Frames
Amazon's Alexa-enabled smart glasses have officially hit the market. Amazon
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

The public version of Amazon’s Echo Frames, smart glasses with hands-free access to virtual assistants Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri, is now available for pre-order and will start shipping Dec. 10.

The eyewear, which was announced as a “Day 1 Edition” last year and has until now been accessible by invitation only, is officially open to all Amazon customers for $250.

According to Amazon, Echo Frames “look and feel like everyday eyewear.” They come with non-corrective lenses, but Amazon said they are compatible with most prescription lenses, too.

Echo Frames also come with “open-ear audio technology” near the user’s temples, which “directs sound toward your ears … while keeping your ears uncovered.” The result is “personal audio with the magic of Alexa when you want it, while still being able to tune in to the world around you,” according to an Amazon statement.

Per Amazon, the microphones are designed to respond to the voice of the person wearing the frames to help preserve privacy. Users also have the option to choose the apps and contacts they want to hear from on the frames, which also support calendars and group messaging.

After vetting Echo Frames with consumers in the Day 1 Editions program, Amazon said they have longer battery life and better audio quality “so your music and Alexa’s voice are even clearer.” In addition, volume can be set to automatically adjust based on outside noise level. And, to maximize battery life, Echo Frames will turn off when they’re placed upside down for three seconds.

A smart ring, Echo Loop, was announced alongside Echo Frames in the Day 1 Editions program last year, but Amazon said production and sales of the smart ring will now end.

“We learned a lot about how customers want to use Alexa for short, snackable content throughout the day,” the statement said, but it did not elaborate.

The release of Echo Frames, of course, comes right before the 2020 holiday season, but it also preempts rumored augmented reality glasses from Apple called Apple Glass, which we could see—no pun intended—in 2021 (although Bloomberg reports they won’t arrive until 2023). In addition to information access, reports say Apple Glass will allow users to interact with digital objects—and it may come with a $499 price tag.

Both products bring to mind Google Glass, the augmented reality glasses Google announced in 2012, which were defunct by 2015. A prototype with what The New York Times called “major kinks to be worked out” was first released to so-called Glass Explorers who paid $1,500 a pair for the privilege of early access. But Google Glass was plagued by problems from the start, including complaints about terrible battery life, as well as privacy concerns—and, well, ugliness. In fact, a 2013 story in The Atlantic, called “A Year with Google Glass Will Turn You Into An Obnoxious Monster,” noted how uncomfortable Google Glass made consumers overall—and it scared children.

But Google Glass lives on. In 2017, it was reinvented as an enterprise product designed to help give workers hands-free access to information and tools. Google released version 2.0 just last year.

But it’s those early complaints about Google Glass that may explain why Amazon has spent so much time normalizing Echo Frames as “everyday eyewear,” as well as optimizing the battery life and privacy settings.

Now, time will tell if consumers are finally ready for wearable tech on their faces.

@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.