Is it time for smart glasses to move into the mainstream?

I tweeted this last week about Ray-ban and Facebook partnering to offer “picture-taking smart glasses” as @inafried described. Now smart glasses are nothing new with both Google and Snap having brought models to market in recent years. And the rumor of Apple releasing smart glasses is persistent (maybe they’ll be released alongside the also long-rumored Apple autonomous vehicle?!) 

I thought I would dig into these latest offerings to see if they have the potential to actually achieve wide adoption. I’ll start by looking at the actual product pages on Ray-Ban before reading a hands-on review from the New York Times. Finally, I’ll offer my take on whether these can succeed as a consumer product where Google and Snap both failed.

The first thing I note is that this product is dubbed “Ray-Ban Stories” which I find both encouraging and also somewhat eye-rolling. 

Pre-pandemic, I did a lot of conference presentations centered on storytelling and I often opened it with a montage of how *every* product touts itself as having some sort of Stories option, with the punchline of me musing about future products like FitBit Stories which would have an interface similar to Billy’s dotted line escapades in the Family Circus comic strips.

So what can these Ray-ban Stories actually do? Breaking it down, it seems these are the primary capabilities:

  • Take photos
  • Take videos
  • Post photos/videos via voice
  • Listen to music
  • Answer phone calls
  • Use as glasses (can’t forget that one!!)

What’s not on that list? That was a key part of Google Glass? An Augmented Reality layer on top of what you view, which to me was often the “killer app” of smart glasses. Imagine being able to ask for directions and arrows direct you or the closet coffee shop is highlighted down the street or you see digital coupons float in view as walk by a clothing store?

Now that all sounds really cool and useful… but that’s also a big jump to make from nothing, a kind of zero to sixty approach.  And that lack of AR is intentional as theconversation.com details when describing the product launch:

Facebook has stressed the glasses do not have any augmented reality (AR) functionality – that is, the ability to overlay one’s view of the physical world with digital images.

That said, during his product launch video, Zuckerberg presents the glasses as a stepping-stone to more fully realised forms of wearable AR — something Facebook has repeatedly hinted at over the past few years. As he puts it, “glasses are going to be an important part of building the next computing platform.

Ben Egliston & Marcus Carter, theconversation.com

I offer a full throated disclaimer that I have a distinct bias against Facebook just based on my own impressions as a user and the general growing state of misinformation. And Mark Zuckerberg has creeped me out ever since he did that  Data-from-Star-Trek on the surfboard business. I shudder thinking about that still…

BUT I have to admit I’m in full agreement with this approach of stripping out a visual AR layer as a stepping stone. We talked about our collective sense of (lack of) privacy with respect to Facebook and Google, as opposed to Apple. So I found it encouraging that one aspect to the Ray-Ban product is that an LED indicator flashes when you are capturing content (kind of like on the old camcorders.)

So how does it actually do with these limited set of options? The New York Times offered a pretty meaty review that included a number of photos and videos captured with the glasses and I have to say I was impressed. They look no different than quality photos and videos one would capture with the latest smartphone. 

And the user experience, according to the reviewer, sounds solid:

For a few moments on my hike last Saturday, I could just make out that vision of the future that Facebook executives were so excited about. Clambering down the many trails in the Presidio presented me with dazzling views, which I was able to shoot using only my voice while still having one hand gripping my dog’s leash and the other holding my backpack.

Mike Isaac, New York Times

And according to a Facebook press release, one is able to share content across a variety of platforms utilizing an app called Facebook View.

The other key feature of these apart from the stripped down non-AR suite of capabilities is the actual design of these. I think the Ray-Ban partnership makes sense. I like the looks of these and that one can select six different colors. They’re not too flashy. And one can get them as both sunglasses or prescription eyeglasses.

The price point is $299 and I can’t believe that I’m going to write this… I think that’s a price point that I might actually bite one for this, if only to embrace the #earlyadopter in me. Have I been Zuckerberged?!

10 comments

  1. I might also have to buy these glasses, Ravi.

    One intriguing point worth discussing is the ease at which the technology would allow us to “live in the moment” more. Most times I come across a beautiful scenery or monument, I whip out my phone to capture the lasting image. With these glasses, however, I’d be able to take out the middle man. Instead of watching the landscape unfold through the lens and screens, I can marvel at scenery, take everything in, and capture the moment all with a calm click of my glasses. Interesting proposal for a new technology purpose, for sure.

    I could also see these glasses being sold, regardless of whether they offer prescription lenses.

  2. I just see this calling all the wannabe/aspiring photographers attention right away!

    I wonder if National Geographic has something similar that their journalists can use to capture quick, hands-free photos. For example, a Wildlife journalist could be up in a tree spotting an incredible gathering of monkeys, but not be able to reach for their camera. A quiet voice command would be the solution to document the special moment. I highly doubt the clarity would match professional equipment, but it’s pretty amazing what can be done to a photo after it’s been taken.

  3. I can’t get past these glasses being a bit creepy. With that being said, I do believe Facebook made a strong decision in partnering with Ray Ban for this project. The Ray Ban brand is classic and cool. People aspire to own their products. Thus, I think their partnership on the glasses add some creditability to the project.

  4. I completely agree with your early adopter sentiment… especially without the forced social media or AR implications that came with early iterations of these “smart glasses”. I bought the Bose Sunglasses about 4 months ago for working out and golfing, and I absolutely LOVE them. The actual build quality on the glasses is decent, but the sound quality truly lives up to the Bose branding. It was nice to finally have a smart glasses option that didn’t force social media into the equation (like those Snapchat glasses a few years ago). When I saw these online a few weeks ago, I immediately felt a need to “upgrade” to a pair with picture/video capturing technology. With it being a Ray Bans brand, I would think the glasses build itself would be leaps and bounds ahead of Bose… I would just be wary of the sound and camera quality before purchasing. That said, if it is proven to be quality tech then I think having the ability of taking some pictures while hiking or golfing, while also listening to music without headphones in, seems like a pretty incredible product for tech lovers. If you get a pair, I’d love a review!

  5. I find it interesting that Ravi and the majority of the commenters of this post are interested in purchasing wearable glasses tech. After reading the article, my first thought was why would anyone pursue this? Isn’t this the exact product that Google Glass produced years ago and failed?

    But as Ravi mentioned, Google went from 0 to 60 in their product launch, whereas these new products are taking a slower approach. Google Glasses augmented reality wasn’t ready for primetime and the cost was a jaw dropping $1,500. Google Glass was intended to be a luxury brand item that wasn’t luxurious at all.

    All that to say, I was too quick to judge this new approach to wearable glasses tech. With great picture quality and an approachable price, I won’t say I’m eager to buy these but I’m starting to understand the appeal.

  6. I am not a big fan of glasses in general, but these Ray-Bans are definitely something special. The product looks great and the photos seem amazing. However, I have some concerns about the potential of bringing spyware to the mainstream. I foresee a lot of photos taken without people’s permission could have a negative effect on Facebook and Ray-Ban. Next thing you know people will not be able to wear their glasses in private business meetings, courtrooms, and movie theaters for people’s concern about being filmed or photographed without their consent.

  7. Hello Ravi,
    Interesting topic but I don’t think you have an early adopter in me. I do have to applaud Facebook for the way they pull apart their bigger vision and break it out into smaller ‘digestible’ consumer bites. I see this as their attempt to slowly get consumers to use their product on their platform – which is something Facebook does not do today. I’m also mostly unsure how this will develop overtime and how policies will be put into place with the use of this type of technology.

  8. Ravi, I agree that facebook is the devil and cannot be trusted. It seems like they’re one step ahead, and already have a 10-15 year road map, of getting us comfortable with smart glasses that can take photos, and soon will be able to have speakers in the tips that can enter your ears, after that some biometric data that can feed into your phone to measure heart rate or stress, and before you know it, they’ll add in AR and we’ll all feel compelled to participate not understanding how we got hooked into their ecosystem. I discussed this in my intro post, but it seems like the future of the world is AR, where a device is projected onto your hand, and you’re able to manipulate it; seems like Facebook is trying to materialize that adoption.

  9. Hi Ravi, great blog! I think you made a great point by pointing out the differences between these sunglasses and the ones produced by Google. I also believe that Rayban/Facebook did well in not including Augmented Reality in these glasses as it might have received the same reaction as Google. Like other people here, I am seriously considering purchasing these for the photo-taking feature.

  10. Ravi – This post really made me wonder whether I would use this technology. While I am not usually in the first adoption section of using new technology, I am often in the early majority. I am aware that this is not new technology but it seems more targeted to consumers and more accessible than ever. There is something to note about the fact that you can enjoy an experience through glasses and not get distracted from a phone. The price point is not bad compared to a “regular” pair of ray-bans either!

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