In 2021, the eyewear market is a $115 billion industry. This industry includes prescription eyeglasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses, but also specialized eyewear for sports, workplace safety, and gaming. Roughly 126 million Americans wear eyeglasses, and they pay an average of $576 a year for the privilege.
New trends are popping up in the eyewear industry. Consumers are purchasing eyeglasses more frequently than before. COVID-19 has shifted customer needs to include blue-light filtering and light-adaptive contact lenses. These innovations make it easier for people to take care of their eyes in a world dominated by staring at screens. As with many industries, customers are also buying online more frequently.
The Replacement Lenses Market
Perhaps the most interesting new development in eyewear is replacement lenses. Savvy consumers are keeping their frames and only buying new lenses whenever their prescription changes. This approach allows them to both save money and maintain a favored personal style. Beyond prescription changes, lens innovations are also driving demand for a swap. Lens coatings protecting against UV rays, scratching, fog, and reflections are all the rage with consumers who can afford them. Electronic focusing glasses have come to the market, though they remain too expensive for the average consumer. Eyewear technology is continuously improving to deliver increasingly advanced features to the public.
The Rise of Smart Glasses
Given the trend towards smart devices elsewhere, it should come as no surprise that smart glasses (not to be confused with smart glass) are coming into the public consciousness. Monocular smart glasses are head-mounted displays that have an optical engine located in one of their lenses. Augmented information is locations outside of the line of sight to minimize distractions. One practical use of this design that has been floated in public discourse is for surgeons tracking patient vitals during an operation.
Going a step beyond monocular smart glasses are binocular smart glasses. As the name implies, these devices have two transparent displays capable of giving users stereoscopic vision. Augmented information is, again, located outside the line of sight to minimize distractions. While many binocular designs lack 3D depth sensors, they use on-board cameras and IMU sensors to support the user’s sense of orientation and positioning. Binocular smart glasses are best for overlaying basic 2D and 3D graphics over a user’s vision. These devices could be used by an engineer fixing an oil rig while receiving instructions from afar, for example.
Another class of smart glasses are audio augmented reality glasses. These glasses have small speakers connected to the wearer’s ear. They combine information collected from attached motion sensors with GPS information obtained from a connected smartphone. Recently, they were used to create an immersive experience at Coachella to inform attendees of upcoming shows.
No matter an individual’s vision needs, the future of eyewear technology has the potential to excite everyone. Smart glasses have been dreamed about in science fiction, and modern innovation is working to make that dream a reality. The market is in its early stages now, but it is growing at a rapid pace. Right now, lens replacement is the thing capturing consumer attention.