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?!