Alexa Glasses: Amazon Echo Frames

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We’re all going to be wearing smart glasses. Someday. 

Based on patent filings, leaks and acquisitions, it’s evident that some of the biggest tech companies – Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Snap, and Facebook – are all working on new technology and innovation that will change how we think about wearables, hearables, and an A.I.-assisted lifestyle. Just this week, Mark Zuckerberg presented Facebook’s plans for smart glasses in 2021, with augmented reality glasses coming soon after.

This week Mark Zuckerberg said many companies are taking shortcuts when it comes to building AR glasses by basically showing some heads-up information. He said: “I call that ‘putting an Apple Watch on your face.'” Well, today we can at least get an Alexa assistant on our faces.

Yes, I wore Google Glasses. Yes, I wore Snap Spectacles. Yes, I desperately want a pair of Nreal Light Augmented Reality Glasses I tested at CES. Yes, this is a review of the new Amazon Echo Frames. Yes, I will buy the Facebook glasses and cannot wait for Apple’s rumored glasses to come out. That’s all on brand for me, right?

But if you know me, you know I love experimenting with these near-term innovation products NOT BECAUSE I’m dying for technology on my face. Rather, it’s because I’m fascinated with these small steps leading to the killer, smart, face-mounted device we will all use in the future. 

Think of all the smart phones that existed before the iPhone was introduced in 2007 and changed the paradigm of what a phone would be by 2020 and how our education, work, and lifestyle would revolve around these black mirrors.

So that’s how I view today’s smart glasses experiments… they are baby steps to a paradigm shift I believe is coming. Disclaimers aside, let’s chat about Amazon’s new smart glasses!

Amazon Echo Frames

Amazon’s Echo Frames are the most affordable, effective, and consumer-facing look around the corner of where smart glasses trends are headed. They look good. You can’t tell they are smart unless you’re told. And they are a remarkable step forward for getting our faces out of our phones and wrists in daily life. 

Available to consumers through Amazon’s invite-only Day 1 Editions program, Amazon Echo Frames are pre-priced at $179 (full retail will be $249), plus the cost of prescription lenses (~$100, depending where you order them). So not exactly Zenni prices, but certainly cheaper than Snap Spectacles ($380) and Google Glass ($1500). 

Frames have Alexa built-in, plus Siri or Google Assistant, and rely on a bluetooth connection to your phone for data. Similar to other Eco devices, Alexa is always listening for the ‘wake word,’ which then triggers A.I. assistant to spring into action and give you complete access to Alexa’s wide range of Skills, calls, drop-ins, and more. Or with a simple temple press, access Siri and its native access to your entire iPhone, testing, calls, apps and more. Same with Google Assistant on Android devices.

With four microspeakers and two beamforming microphones embedded in the stems, the audio quality is excellent except in heavy winds.For music, they are a little tinny. But the microphones are excellent for voice. I have to imagine Amazon’s engineers are exploring bone conduction audio for future iterations. But as long as you have the volume set low enough, they are pretty private.

In fact, the other day I was having a discussion with my wife and listening to a podcast at the same time. I’m a super nice husband. And I will not make that mistake again.

No screen! No camera!

The immediate initial questions I get asked about Echo Frames are: 1) Are you looking at me through a screen right now, and 2) Are you recording me? 

No! Frames are hearables in the purest sense. A small light inside the frames tells you when you’ve activated Alexa by voice or the backup stem button, but otherwise there is no visual display to look at or through (these are not augmented reality glasses) and no camera.

As for the audio side of “Are you recording me?” – well, that’s a stickier answer. This is an Amazon product, after all. 

Google Glass missed their PR window to educate consumers about privacy and use of its camera. Snap Spectacles attempted to inoculate privacy concerns by its placement of bright circling lights when they are recording.   

This 1st edition of Echo Frames doesn’t include any forward-facing indicator when the microphones are “listening” or sending audio to your phone, but I assume that’s intentional — the microphones aren’t facing outward and aren’t designed to record.

However, there are valid concerns about how Amazon stores and uses all of its Alexa-based data and recordings. That same scrutiny can be applied to Frames. And like all Echo products, there is a manual “mute” button with red light indicator that it is not listening. 

So after a month wearing Amazon Echo Frames off and on, how am I using them?

  • “Dropping in” on my kids while they’re doing school in their rooms. We have Echo Dots in each room of the house, and it’s pretty great to quickly be able to call them down for lunch or ask how school is going. 
  • Talking on the phone, texting, listening to music and podcasts, and recording Marco Polos – as a supplement to my AirPods.
  • Asking random factoids and information, like how many ounces are in a gallon – as a more intimate supplement to normal Echo requests. 

Of course, this test period is taking place during a global pandemic. So practical use in “normal” times, including during a commute, working from an office, or doing extra curricular activities has yet to be fully flexed. I more or less never leave my highly-connected home, where I can count eight always-listening Echo devices, plus Google Home and Facebook Portal. And my Echo Loop smart ring. So they are a tad bit duplicative in this season of life.

My biggest issues?

Battery life. Man, these batteries are not good. Maybe 3-4 hours battery life, depending on how much you’re using them. There’s nothing like wearing dead smart glasses for hours at a time in the afternoon. So the trade off of Echo Frames not being bulky and obnoxious is you are trading battery life.

You also MUST have your phone around to use them. Just like the Apple Watch’s evolution, you can imagine future iterations of Frames having their own data plan. Leave your phone at home and just head out with your Frames. It will happen.

And lastly, I do think there are valid privacy issues to anticipate with the mainstreaming of hearables, particularly as people become more educated on surveillance and sousveillance as it pertains to audio recordings. Where Google Glass dropped the ball on proactive PR, others need to learn and start working ahead on normalization and privacy controls.

BONUS: Now when my phone rings my laptop, phone, Apple Watch, Echo Loop ring, and Echo Frames glasses all ring! The future is amazing, you guys! I’ll never miss a telemarketer spam call again.

Should you buy Echo Frames?

Probably not. They aren’t necessarily intended for general public consumption. However, they are the highest quality, most affordable, best looking smart glasses I’ve worn. 

In fact, I genuinely like them. It took me a couple weeks to get prescription lenses, and now that I’ve got them I will wear them regularly.

On the other side, I mean… just look at these cool folks at the official Google Glass Meetup at SXSW in 2014…

Group photo from Official Google Glass Explorer Meetup at SXSW 2014

So Echo Frames Edition 1 are not the must-purchase, but they are a step to where we’re headed.

Where are we headed?

 As mentioned in the intro, I’m pretty bullish on smart glasses coming into the mainstream. When? It’s safe to say the next 10 years, although I predict it will be sooner. 

I’m fascinated with the promise and value of smart glasses, including new uses we can only start to imagine, including…

  • Notifications: Screenless and heads-up 
  • Real-time translation: via visual displays and/or audio
  • Smart lenses: dynamically changing prescription, focal length, blue light, and UV protection
  • Anticipatory A.I.: moving beyond notifications, reminders and lookups to offer proactive information, scheduling, and more
  • Standalone data: We could conceivably not need to carry a phone at all by 2030.
  • Augmented Reality: opening the digital layer of our world to its wearer for work, play, and daily use. Of note, Nreal is advancing this quickly.

Will the future look like Keiichi Matsuda’s short film, Hyper Reality (2016), experienced through smart glasses? We’ll find out soon enough. 


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RELATED COMMENTARY BY GREG:

CES 2020: Trends, Brands and Waving at Robots

Last week I attended CES 2020, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show. It’s the global gathering of innovators for tech’s biggest showcase of the year.

Here’s my official Fallon + Publicis Groupe recap: Capturing Attention With Creativity in a “Smart” World, which is part of a larger CES 2020 Trends and Insights report you can download here.

One of my tweets was quoted in this BBC News article, Nreal’s mixed reality glasses win over skeptics. Another couple tweets were quoted in this Daily Mail piece, Smart kitchen of the future. And you can see my Twitter threads live from the show floor here and here.

Here’s a video tour I produced from the 950 photos and videos I took of the show this year:

Why Attend CES?

CES is one of the best ways get a pulse on emerging trends in technology that will impact consumers, and thus how brands engage with consumers through those technologies. As culture continues to evolve and tech-adoption increases, it’s important to have a sense of where things are at and where they’re headed.

I first attended CES in 2008 – just a year after the introduction of the iPhone, four years before Oculus Rift VR was founded, and six years before Amazon would introduce Alexa. It was a different world. I used an actual camera to take photos and a Flip Video camera to record digital video.

Over the last 12 years, I’ve observed trends that today seem common place, like:

  • Smartphone at the Center of Everything
  • IoT and Wearables Shifting From Products to Platform
  • Immersive Content is Mainstreaming
  • Sensors in Everything
  • Assistance Through Assistants

And although there are great takeaways, the “WTF?” moments are also memorable.

In 2014 the people manning the booths were more interested in my Google Glass than telling me about their demos. I got the chance to see augmented reality contact lenses up close (which were sadly disappointing). I filmed an entire series on Vine called “What’ll They Think of Next?” that went viral (but is now gone forever). And in 2017, I toured the show wearing Snapchat Spectacles and a broken foot. The video still holds up.

I’ve written thousands of words about innovations at CES, used those insights for clients, and feel strongly it’s important to keep up a strong pulse on emerging technology when it comes to advertising and marketing.

The truth is, you can get a lot out of CES by reading articles about it (like this one!). But being hands-on and getting a real feel for the community and what people are saying can be extremely helpful to form objective and original takeaways.

CES is also a great complement and partner to South by Southwest, where the focus is less on hardware and more on philosophy and cultural impact. It’s a one-two punch to start Q1 every year.


2020 CES Takeaways

Science fiction and fantasy book sales have doubled in the last decade. Everyone owns a smart phone. Popular entertainment is filled with fantastical ideas of how emerging technology will impact our society — for better and worse. As a result, consumers are more interested in digital, gadgets, and smart devices than ever before.

Creativity is enhanced by technology, and the marketing opportunities unlocked by tapping these disruptive technologies can help brands break through the wall of noise to capture consumer attention in this increasingly “smart” world.

Here are some of the ways technology is capturing attention as we headed into 2020:

Dreaming of the Future: From self-driving cars to self-folding laundry, personal robots to ground drones, there is one constant. People love fantasizing about the coming future. Just look at the CES news coverage this year amidst one of the busiest global news cycles ever.

There’s always a place for robot news – whether its excitement for toilet paper delivery, poking fun at electric license plates, or hoping for a day with Uber helicopters circling the skies. Brands can borrow equity from emerging technology by building creative experiences that help consumers picture themselves in this future state.


Nostalgia Tech: In an uncertain world that seems to be changing too quickly, consumers look to the past for comfort.

Huge advancements in technology at CES are being built into retro shells to appeal to our past: smart thermostats that look like old thermostats, record player cabinets built into furniture, even cassette players, walkmans and boomboxes with terrestrial radios were on the scene. You know my obsession with fax machines? It’s merited.

Brands can appeal to the inherent attention value of nostalgia while balancing smart sensors, computers and processes under that throwback aesthetic. Dig deep into your archives and find something that once mattered to people and resurface it with a modern twist. People will LOVE it.


Aftermarket Upgrade: Making your daily life “smarter” no longer requires a huge investment or buying new appliances every few years.

From aftermarket kitchen devices that control your old stove or reorder groceries, to Amazon Echo in your older car or an unbuckled seatbelt alarm, we’re starting to see more opportunities to make “dumb” devices smarter without huge cost.

The aftermarket inventions to help disrupt porch-pirates in our home-delivery world were particularly compelling!

Leapfrogging competitors takes time and heavy investment, but brands can look for opportunities to plus-up existing products or create a low-cost marketing campaign product when “smart-lite” will do.


Small Screen Content on the Big Screen: Given the rise of streaming networks, mainstream smartphone adoption, and innovative ways to create and share vertical-first content, you could be surprised there is so much focus on 8K flat screen TVs at CES again this year.

But consumers still want to watch content on giant monitors at-home. Based on 2020 CES trends, those monitors probably won’t need 3D glasses, may roll up inside a small, and may spin vertically when watching vertical content. But most of all, they will continue to be thinner and brighter.

Brands should continue to explore thumb stopping, clickable and highly shareable advertising that will reach people where they want to consume content, including broadcast, streaming networks, gaming platforms, and YouTube. Big screen or small.


Facial Recognition Marketing Strategy: There will be more than 1 billion surveillance cameras in the world by the end of 2021, and that doesn’t count the cameras consumers are voluntarily putting in their homes, phones, cars, mirrors, TVs and doorbells at CES.

Walking past smart monitors on the trade show floor, I found myself tracked, gender identified, and temperature checked -– all without my permission. Invisibly.

From a marketing perspective, brands should explore ways to create attention with the magic of facial recognition and personalized content (or experiences), while seriously balancing consumer pushback, privacy and security protections of that sensitive data. Do you have a facial recognition marketing strategy? Even if it’s “We won’t capture or keep this data,” you need one in 2020.


Smart Glasses and the Mixed Reality Revolution: Four years ago CES was awash with virtual reality headsets and all kinds of bad VR experiences causing huge lines in booths across the trade show. Today, VR arcades are popular in every major metro market, and personal VR headsets are a stocking stuffer.

At CES 2020, there were VR and AR headsets, glasses and glasses-free experiences with similarly huge lines and new mixed reality technologies – like Nreal’s extremely portable AR glasses, multiple aAR heads-up displays for automobiles, the announcement of Sony Playstation 5 VR, and Sony’s Eye-Sensing Light Field Display, which uses vision sensors and facial recognition to create an AR, 3D-like “spatial reality experience” without glasses.

These new innovations make use of improvements in tiny cameras, microdisplays, processors and consumer utility — for both enterprise and consumer use. Of note, all the best VR and AR tech demos at CES this year supported prescription lens inserts. I was asked for my prescription 6 times in 3 days. Thank God.

Per my 2020 Trends Predictions, Facebook, Amazon, Snapchat and Apple all have smart glasses patents filed, and are in various stages of addressing launch rumors. That means 2020 could be the year that talking, listening or photographic glasses again test the social norm limits of Americans.


Hearables: Ears have been called “the new wrist” for emerging technology. And CES had a wealth of innovation around audio and in-ear devices.

With iOS adding decibel health, Apple driving active noise cancellation into the mainstream, Congress approving over-the-counter hearing aids, a decrease in hearing device stigma, and innovations in micro technologies and bone conduction, we’re just starting to see where this category will go and grow.

A CES 2020 highlight, Nuheara was demonstrating a $399 solution to moderate hearing loss combined with AirPod functionality, Siri, and more – called the IQBuds Max.

Gen X hearing aids are going to be so cool.


Self-Driving Cars with Steering Wheels: CES has turned into a bit of a car show, with the North Hall filled with major auto brands showing off their latest in automation, safety and self-driving capabilities each year. After all, in 2020, cars are the biggest piece of smart technologies in our lives after a smart phone. A car is just a big computer.

This year Segway introduced a Wall-E type lounge chair for getting around town. Sony introduced a prototype electric car that looks eerily similar to a Tesla (with a steering wheel!). And countless vendors showcased new and aftermarket technologies in the smart-car space, like heads-up augmented reality displays, dashboard cameras, LiDAR and human/objective identification, batteries, charging, and more.

Although a world where our cars ALL drive themselves may be decades away, we’re seeing these smart technologies incorporated into modern automobiles at a startling pace that improves safety for drivers, occupants and pedestrians.

It’s partial automation realized today, and in a car culture fraught with political and infrastructure barriers to full automation, our cars may have steering wheels for centuries to come.

As for content and in-car entertainment, Shelly Palmer made the case that the future of autonomous car entertainment is already here. It’s our phones, and we already stream content on them all the time during our commute. Super interesting POV.


Brand Activations: Two non-traditional technology brands really stood at CES — Charmin and Impossible Foods.

Charmin leveraged the consumer insight that sometimes you run out of toilet paper while you’re on the toilet with the fact that CES is robot-obsessed, and designed a “prototype” of TP delivery robots perfectly structured to incentivize social sharing and PR buzz.

Nested inside the P&G booth, Charmin never pretended this activation was anything other than tongue-in-cheek booth bait, and it got people talking.

Impossible Foods, on the other hand, arrived at CES with true product innovation. They announced Impossible Pork, gave away White Castle Impossible Sliders, and had a small tent outside the convention hall with a spinning wheel for branded swag.

That was really all it took for Impossible to drive headlines and social engagement about their experience. Amazing. And delicious.

Both of these branded activations had non-stop lines and buzz all week.


Test and Learn Pilots: Your brand may not be ready to go all-in on the next generation of technology. However, you can leverage consumer engagement and press interest in A.I., IOT, VR, AR, and the rest of the alphabet soup for your brand today with small campaign pilots designed to drive buzz, articles and attention.

Don’t get paralyzed at needing your emerging tech idea to be perfect. Build something small and launch it as a test.

You’ll be surprised how much attention and traction a creative test with emerging technology can earn in 2020.

Want ideas of how to get started? There’s a process for that. Hit me up!


Waving at Robots, 2020

Here is a video of me waving at all the robots at CES 2020…


A Final Thought on CES 2020

CES is so exhilarating and inspiring. What man is doing with technology can be truly amazing, if used for good. For entertainment. For bettering our world.

Not all of this fun stuff does that, and some of it can be abused or keep our focus away from what matters. I do wish for more focus on climate, mental health and creating cross-cultural connection.

Maybe that’s something we could focus on together. It’s our community, after all.


SWAN’s Historical CES Round-ups and Debriefs


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What are You? How to Create an Instagram Story Randomizing Face Filter

This summer Facebook released a tool that lets anyone design custom face filters and environmental effects for Instagram Stories. 

Previously only available for Facebook Developers, the Spark AR Studio software is now available as a free download for anyone to create filters. 

The software itself is reminiscent of MIT’s Scratch (ask your kids, they’ll know it) and is filled with templates and tutorials to get you started. 

With the popularity of the “Which Disney character are you?” filter, followed by the “Which Harry Potter character are you?” filter, followed by the “What font are you?” filter over the holiday break, I decided to dig into how to create one. 

Spark AR Studio is pretty cool software but it’s certainly not Garage Band. A “real” developer will be way better at it than me, of course.

So this is what I made. It’s called Toast Chooser. It allows you to find out how you like your toast. From rare, medium rare, medium well or burnt. It’s dumb. It’s entirely random and hundreds of people have made themselves toast now. LOL. 

You can try it by clicking this link and opening it in the Instagram app.

How To Make One

  • Download Spark AR Studio
  • Watch this video.
  • Download this example patch and open it with Spark AR Studio.
  • Try changing the 4 pre-loaded colors in that patch to white, then change the textures of each one to your own png files. Now add a Runtime command to it so it stops automatically, and make any other tweaks you want. I suggest you put a title slide in it and some face effects, for example. Note: you shouldn’t necessarily copy this example, but instead, use it as a reference.
  • Test it – a lot! The software will generate a link you can send to your friends within their Facebook app. Really get a sense for how it will work and if there are any bugs. 
  • Create a demo video. Mine got rejected almost immediately because I put text overlay on the demo video. So read the prompts! 
  • Upload your filter to Facebook for their approval through the Facebook Spark AR Hub. This site will also give you the backend analytics to see how many people used your filter and impressions it received from everyone using it. 
  • Wait for approval. Could be 24 hours. Could be a couple weeks. Address any issues. Go live!
  • Share and marketer your filter when live! Generate a permalink to the filter page and share it outside of Instagram with a video snapshot of the effect!

More importantly than this dumb meme trend is the rapid adoption rates of augmented reality. We don’t even think about the advanced visual and machine learning and technology required to bring this to life.

It’s just magic. Toast on your head magic.


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