Ever since the failure of Google Glass, Apple and dozens of other companies have been rumored to be working on augmented reality glasses or smart glasses or both. Intellectual property owned by a startup Apple bought a year ago was reported to include more than 200 patents which collectively lead to a "thin, transparent smart glass lenses that display vibrant, full-color, wide field-of-view images." But new evidence has been piling up recently, that Apple may launch its platform (hardware, software, an app store, etc.) in 2020. 

Why will smart glasses matter?

Lots of people wear glasses, just like a lot of people wear watches. In both cases there is price elasticity. You can get glasses or a watch for $10, $100, or $1000, and customers already exist.  

Plus, augmented reality (AR) is only the beginning for smart glasses. Imagine built-in GPS and health sensors. Now go further, and imagine facial recognition and location-based advertising. 

Imagine passive machine-vision algorithms watching what you watch and posting a commentary (e.g. directions, a price check, weather report) for just you to see. Now imagine smart contact lenses. Mind blown yet? One only needs to look at sci-fi blockbusters like Blade Runner, Her, Source Code, Minority Report and Mission Impossible 4 to see just how far down the rabbit hole smart glasses may take us. 

How Smart Glasses Could Impact Your Business

If you are an app maker, this could be your next screen. Apple's App Store has proven a game-changer, as it allows access to hundreds of millions of users on launch day. The same can be said (albeit at a smaller scale) about the Apple Watch. So you need to consider how your app, be it a game, a nutrition coach, or a video streaming service, will be impacted by this new platform. 

If you sell to consumers, smart glasses could impact sales in the real world. How will shopping in your store be changed, when smart glass users can scan barcodes with a glance to compare prices?

As for business-to-business manufacturers, you could enhance work efficiently with smart glasses, either by including instruction manuals in augmented reality, or perhaps by mapping the location of inventory in a large facility. 

If you sell a custom solution--say, a custom-made couch--AR would allow your customers to take the couch home virtually, and see how it looks. If your small business is in the health sector, glasses that contain sensors could afford clinicians a wider range of input data than the Apple Watch.

Basically, the opportunities are abundant, no matter what field you may be in. 

What You Should Do Today to Prepare

First, return to first principles. Ask yourself: If I were launching my small business today, or even tomorrow, how would I do it differently?

Then, talk to your customers. First, probe their unmet market needs or things you could do better. Then, don't be afraid to discuss specifics. Asking your customers what they think is always worth the time. 

After that, go lean. Don't invest millions only to find out that no one wants your solution. Instead, once you find a solution, mock up a minimum viable product (MVP), share that with your customers, and gauge their reaction. You will know you are onto something if they refuse to give you back your MVP. 

Smart glasses and AR have countless applications for businesses. It will be interesting to see how AR develops over the next five years and how businesses continue to integrate the technology. If and when Apple launches its smart glasses, you need to be ready. 

Published on: Oct 18, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.