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Japanese entrepreneur Takahito Iguchi wants people to see the world through other people’s eyes. But as a less ambitious jumping off point, he’ll kick it off with a world that looks like a Japanese manga cartoon. His device, called the Telepathy One, is the closest thing I’ve seen under development yet to Google’s Glass gadget, and at an event in New York City on Tuesday night, Iguchi and his team showed off prototypes (two working and several others just mockups) of the wearable image-streaming glasses to the media.
Like with Google Glass, users wear the Telepathy One on their heads, in front of the eye and wrapped around the ears. Telepathy actually has ear buds that fit into the ears, so you can presumably hear audio functionality when they add it in.
Unlike with Google Glass, the Telepathy One has an optically projected small screen in front of the eye of the wearer, and a cell phone app controlled by the partner captures the images that the wearer sees in a tiny screen. The Telepathy team said the device will also be able to take photos or videos from the headset and stream those images to the partner’s cell phone app, but the prototype didn’t yet have that functionality.
Iguchi emphasized that he wants the Telepathy One to enable users to share what they’re seeing with their loved ones. “You feel the love when your loved one is standing beside you,” said Iguchi, who flew in from Tokyo days before and half the time spoke to the group in English and half the time spoke in Japanese using an interpreter. The core functionality of the Telepathy One is the social sharing of experiences in real time between people over distance, explained Iguchi. He pointed out that this is in contrast to some of the more open-ended apps that will come out of Google Glass.
The first app that the Telepathy One will use is the Manga Camera app, which is a popular app in Japan that’s gotten 6 million downloads. For the demo, I put the headset on and the Telepathy team took photos of people around me, and the Manga-versions of those people streamed to the little projected screen in front of my eye.
Sound a little weird? Well, that’s because it was a little weird.
Seeing a bunch of strangers look like tiny black and white cartoons might not have the same type of pull as, say, seeing your best friend or partner as a goofy manga character. The prototype also wasn’t fitted comfortably enough to be able to see the image very well, so most people that tried the device on ended up holding it with their hand at a certain angle, looking up in an awkward manner, and practically squinting to see the image.
The experience is also telling of the stage of development of the product. It’s in a really early stage. While the Telepathy team is shooting for a Christmas 2013 launch for the device, it’s far — far — from prime time. They’re still sourcing suppliers for the components, and haven’t advanced enough to be able to give an estimated price on it (other than it’ll be cheaper than what Google is charging developers for Google Glass) or battery life time yet. There’s also a lot of planned functionality in the device that the team talked about but wasn’t even remotely there yet, like planned interfaces using audio, gesture, and touch (difficult things that are hard to get right).
At the same time, I do like some of the choices that the Telepathy team have made. In choosing one functionality (social image sharing only) and trying to make it really simple, I think they made smart decisions. Iguchi likened the Telepathy One and Google Glass to the iPods of the world trying to create an entirely new type of industry that people don’t know yet that they want. The device that can break through this type of difficult market will need to have one killer app to define the need and win people over.
The Telepathy One isn’t really a threat to Google. The team has 8 people working on the device, and formed the venture in January 2013. And as Iguchi said at the beginning of his talk while they’ve introduced their baby, it’s not really even born yet. The group introduced the Telepathy One at SXSW last month, and will be in Silicon Valley next month looking to connect with developers.
We’ll be talking about wearables and new UI’s at our RoadMap event in November in San Francisco. To get access to our first tickets for RoadMap (which sold out in 2012) sign up here.