RIP, Bose AR, We Hardly Knew Ye

OK, I gotta milk this bomb photo Sam Rutherford took of me in the Bose Frames one last time 'cause Bose AR is dead.  (Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo)
OK, I gotta milk this bomb photo Sam Rutherford took of me in the Bose Frames one last time 'cause Bose AR is dead. (Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo)

Bose seemed like a company that had a slightly different, incredibly interesting vision for augmented reality. It was different from other tech companies’ approaches — Bose put AR in its Bose Frames sunglasses, but it wasn’t like the AR glasses or headsets that are already on the market. In lieu of holographic images superimposed on the real world, Bose’s AR was audio only. The strategy was new, but now it looks like Bose’s gamble didn’t pay off. Instead, the company has decided to shut down its ambitious Bose AR division, according to Protocol.

Apparently, the writing has been on the wall for some time. Bose’s John Gordon, the senior vice president of consumer electronics who spearheaded the AR wearables initiative, left the company in June 2019 — about six months after the Frames launched. In April, Bose posted an FAQ explaining it had decided to close its Bose AR public beta SDK. Citing an unnamed source, Protocol also says that several people on the company’s AR team left the company this past spring.

Protocol’s report notes that Bose also began scrubbing its website of any mention of AR around the same time. It’s true that AR is not prominently displayed on Bose’s homepage, and a former URL for Bose AR apps now redirects to a headphones product page. However, querying “augmented reality” on its site brings up six products that still support the feature, including the Frames. The product page for the Bose Frames also still notes the glasses are “Bose AR enabled.” So it tracks that while this decision was probably a long time coming, Bose likely only pulled the plug somewhat recently. Gizmodo reached out to Bose to confirm these details, but didn’t immediately receive a response.

A Bose spokesperson did, however, tell Protocol that “Bose AR didn’t become what [it] envisioned,” and that the company found its AR program was more suited for “specific use cases, not for broad, daily use.” As a result, the company will end support for third-party developer apps in mid-July.

In many ways, this news is hardly surprising. The Bose Frames were a neat product, and audio-only AR is actually less distracting in practice than traditional AR headsets. That said, $US200 ($290) wasn’t cheap for a gadget that mostly functioned like a pair of discreet headphones. Plus, the available AR apps weren’t exactly plentiful. When I reviewed the Frames, I was mostly limited to a few navigation apps, a handful of audio-based story games, and some sort of virtual golf caddy. In the end, the Frames were more of a cool experimental gadget for early adopters than something the average consumer was likely to wear on a daily basis.

Bose itself has also had a rough go of it recently. Earlier this year, Bose announced it was closing all of its retail stores in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Japan. In a statement to Gizmodo at the time, Bose noted that the decision would result in hundreds of layoffs but that the company was committed to providing outplacement assistance and severance to affected employees. Then in March, it was revealed that Bose’s CEO Phil Hess had also quietly left the company around the same time as the store closures.

Bose’s woes mirror those of other high-profile AR headset makers — even if it opted for a less intensive, audio-only approach than its rivalss. In March, Magic Leap reportedly put out feelers for a buyer before laying off roughly half its staff, and then magically suckered in another $US350 ($508) million in funding a few weeks ago. In general, consumer AR glasses haven’t caught on the way tech companies have hoped, with most pivoting to more lucrative enterprise solutions. Bose’s audio-only AR would’ve faced an uphill battle here, especially when pitted against the Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2 and Microsoft’s HoloLens 2.

As of right now, Apple’s rumoured AR glasses could stand the best chance of success when it comes to consumer-friendly AR. And as for my pair of Bose Frames collecting dust in my drawer, I guess at the very least they’re still pretty cool sunglasses.