Eric Johnson

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Atheer and Meta Want You to Touch Your Apps in Midair

meta_proTouchscreens have become so 2007, the wearable computing crowd chants. The next big thing for how we interact with our technology, they say, might be touching nothing at all.

Consider two new wearable projects clamoring for attention this week, the Atheer One and Meta Pro. Both are augmented-reality-focused smart glasses that project their interfaces in front of users’ faces. Cameras and sensors on the glasses can determine how far away real-world objects are, including hands and fingers, so someone who from the outside seems to be poking at air may actually be tapping a holographic display.

With tactile touchscreen-based phones and tablets still selling like crazy, the specifics of how many consumers want this sort of interaction isn’t part of the discussion, at least not yet. But: Future! Iron Man! Minority Report! Shh!

For whatever it’s worth, though, Meta was interesting enough to Kickstarter backers earlier this year to raise $194,444, nearly double its original goal, for a developer version called the Meta One and a consumer version, the Meta Pro. Pre-orders for the $3,000 Pro, planned for a June/July 2014 launch, opened on Tuesday at SpaceGlasses.com.

Now Atheer is trying to pull off the same trick. This morning, it launched an Indiegogo campaign (an eleventh-hour switch after getting bogged down in Kickstarter’s project approval process, I’m told), also asking for $100,000 to finance a developer version, to arrive April-June 2014, and then the consumer model, the Atheer One, for December 2014.

Atheer was originally only in the UI business, and debuted its wearables platform at the D11 conference in May of this year.

“We are not a hardware play,” CEO Soulaiman Itani said in an interview. “We are software, but there was nothing out there for us to put the software on.”

So, the company brokered manufacturing partnerships for the dev kit, which costs $850, and the later consumer version, which costs $350. While the dev kit packs a processor, battery and so on into the glasses themselves, the Atheer One will outsource most of its processing to a tethered Android phone.

Itani said the Atheer One will simulate having a 23-inch monitor at a half-arm’s-length away. Although the technology is said to be backward-compatible with existing Android apps, the CEO positioned the glasses as ideal for specific tasks like 3-D architectural/design modeling, playing videogames and keeping track of inventory in a warehouse.

The Meta Pro, on the other hand, is making a more ambitiously broad consumer pitch. CEO Meron Gribetz said he expects “hundreds to thousands” of apps at launch on top of the 10 the Pro will ship with, but that one of those apps will be the device seller. That app, Meta Port, will connect to either a dongle on the same Wi-Fi network or a bit of software running on users’ existing phones, tablets and computers, and emulate those devices’ displays holographically.

Like Atheer’s consumer model, the Meta Pro will be tethered to a device in your pocket, but not an Android phone. Gribetz claimed the Meta Pro Pocket Computer is “five to 10 times more powerful than your smartphone.” He also did a fair bit of Google Glass bashing, saying the most well-known smart glasses are weak and lack enough apps.

“They [Google] insisted on making it sexy before it was useful,” Gribetz said.

Competitor-bashing aside, both companies seem to subscribe to the same wearables newsletter: Smart devices like theirs, they believe, are inevitable. It’s just a question of convincing real people that the inevitability will have solid tangible appreciable advantages over what they use now, and that this isn’t just an augmented reality distortion field.


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