There is a rumor going around that Microsoft is negotiating the acquisition of Lumus Optical. Lumus is a startup company that developed a clever see-through eyewear. The company originally targeted both the professional (e.g. defense) market as well as the consumer market, though it reportedly sold off its defense business to focus on the consumer side. The public specifications of its product show a low-resolution (640×480), narrow field of view (27 degrees) display, but one that could be made to resemble a pair of normal glasses.
Publicly, Lumus has been keeping a very low profile. The most recent press release or news article on its Web site, for instance, is dated some two years ago. If it not for their promotion of the upcoming SID show, an outsider could conclude that Lumus is out of business.
Of course, it may very well be that this rumor is untrue or that the acquisition talks will not come through, but it’s a good opportunity to analyze where such an acquisition could fit.
One place where a see-through display could fit is with the Microsoft mobile division as part of the Windows phone initiatives. A classic use case of a Bluetooth-equipped see-through display with a phone is showing the caller ID inside the glasses so that the user does not have to pull out or look down at the phone. With phones become more and more sophisticated, dynamic driving directions have also been discussed.
How much would people be willing to pay for such glasses and what would they cost to make? This has been a classic chicken-and-egg problem for goggle manufacturers, where price depends on quantity and quantity depends on price. If Microsoft were to bring this product to market, they could all but guarantee a large enough quantity to make these economical.
Another possible home for a see-through display ix the XBOX group. If motion sensing (e.g. Wii, Kinect) was the last big thing in gaming, 3D, immersion and freedom of motion could be the next. I find this a bit less likely that mobile because gaming often requires immersion and 27 degrees of FOV, at least for the current product, is far from being immersive.
One way or the other, such an acquisition would be a nice shot in the arm for all the goggle vendors trying to find their way to a mainstream market.
If Microsoft ends up acquiring Lumus, you’ve heard it first here! If they don’t, I just might change the title of this post to “Should Microsoft acquire Lumus”.