The tech giant is teaming up with an iconic eyewear brand to try to succeed where many others have failed.
Connected glasses are the cemetery of empires. From Google Glass to Snapchat Spectacles, many tech titans have announced with great fanfare their intention to conquer the optical wearable space once and for all. None have really succeeded so far.
Neither Glass nor Spectacles have succeeded in carving out a niche in the consumer electronics market, let alone making augmented reality, or AR, a part of everyday life. Indeed, both were on that list of nine infamous tech disasters of the 2010s.
So when I was offered the chance to get my hands on Ray-Ban Stories, the new collaboration between Facebook and the iconic sunglasses brand, I was very intrigued.
The glasses come with a 5MP camera on each side, three microphones, speakers, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capability. They can be used for sound input and output when connected to a phone. and can capture photos and videos (up to 30 seconds at a time) whether connected or not. They are available in a number of different Ray-Ban styles and can be fitted with different types of lenses.
What is perhaps most remarkable about Ray-Bans is that they are not; AR. The glasses do not have any augmented reality functionality of any kind. Overall, this is just a pair of Ray-Ban glasses with a built-in Bluetooth headset and a voice-controllable camera.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg has spoken more and more frequently about Facebook’s vision for the “metaverse,” of which AR is an important part. And the company certainly has the ability to continue R&D in this area since its $ 2.3 billion acquisition of virtual reality company Oculus in 2014. But the Stories glasses don’t directly contribute to that vision.
This is actually something that Facebook has been pretty clear about. Although they refer to them as “smart glasses,” which might sound like AR, the company made it clear over a year ago that this product would not have a screen.
That said, there is a strong argument that the Ray-Ban Stories represent some kind of trial for real AR glasses, which Facebook has confirmed is working on. And in that regard, there are a number of important things to consider about glasses.
The stories prototype a number of technical features that one can easily imagine being used in future, more advanced wearable devices.
They offer impressive battery life and data storage in a form factor that is effectively identical to standard Ray-Ban. They have a nifty capacitive touchpad for audio control, volume control, and Facebook Assistant activation. And the speakers built into the arms, just above your ears, are of high quality and quite powerful.
Despite claims by the tech team at launch that “in almost any environment it will be private, people around you will not be able to hear what you are listening at all,” there is quite a bit of audio leakage. The sound is directional, perhaps impressively, but if someone listened to a podcast on these while sitting next to you on a long train ride, you would get bored pretty quickly.
Another important innovation is the charging case. It’s roughly the size and shape of a regular hard glasses case, but it has its own (much larger) battery that charges the glasses whenever they are placed in it. It’s a great idea that makes it much more possible to get the stories out. Again, it is easy to see that this is useful in making future AR glasses a part of everyday life.
The Facebook View app that pairs with Stories has a number of pretty powerful video and photo editing features (when the media has been downloaded to the phone). This is less directly applicable to AR, but may be transferable in the future to Instagram, where the app allows you to post directly. These features also take advantage of the dual-camera setup, letting you introduce movement to photos after they’re taken and do cool things around changing focus.
The Facebook tech team clearly thought about privacy when designing the glasses. The company is eager to note that a highly visible LED lights up on the outside of the glasses whenever they capture a photo or video so that people cannot be recorded without their knowledge. In addition, all media is encrypted on board before being transferred to your phone via Bluetooth.
There is a lot of room for debate about the actual effectiveness of these privacy features, but they are very deliberately brought to the fore in marketing. Between concerns raised around Google Glass and the privacy criticisms Facebook has faced more generally, the company realizes it needs to at least discuss the matter.
It is very important that they are Ray-Ban. The design team were proud to announce that the Stories weigh only 5g more than (and just over double the price) regular Ray-Ban, and look basically the same at a glance. . In a way, the company seems to be positioning them as a high-end option in the existing luxury sunglasses market – an upgrade from the Ray-Bans might have already considered buying. This is also evident in the name – these aren’t Facebook glasses, they’re Ray-Ban Stories.
People have laughed at Google Glass for its supposedly “dorky” appearance, but you can easily imagine wearing them on a daily basis. People might not even notice it unless you start taking pictures or talking with your glasses on. Granted, if you, like me, don’t need glasses, people might ask you why you wear them all the time all the time. But you can also buy the sunglasses version.
That’s part of the point; a supposed key use case for stories is to capture moments as they happen without having to pull out your phone. Your glasses are there, and all you need to do is press the button or use a voice command. This is partly for activities where you need to be able to use both hands or concentrate on what you are doing, but also for those fleeting moments that you might otherwise miss. I have found use for the glasses when ziplining and for getting quality photos of my cat (who usually turns off any cute thing he does the minute I point a phone at him).
If marketed correctly, it gives Stories at least one chance to catch the mass market attention that previous efforts on smart glasses have failed to reach, rather than appealing exclusively to those who do. have a keen interest in technology. Apple, with its reputation for elegance, has managed to tap into this market quite successfully with the Apple Watch, so it is possible.
Granted, Venn’s diagram of people who are interested in luxury sunglasses and people who want more ways to create content for Instagram, TikTok, etc. consumers. It’s hard to say if this will work. It’s always a gamble, but teaming up with the biggest name in luxury eyewear certainly seems worth a try.
Whether this strategy is maintained in the future, it is unclear what Facebook’s actual AR wearable devices are. The company may view low-tech eyewear with mass market potential, fashionable, and more advanced AR gear for technical types as entirely separate niches, with the former serving as a test bed for the latter.
Will Stories be successful, either as a money maker or laying the groundwork for the future of augmented reality? It is far too early to tell. But the approach is undoubtedly new and quite intelligent.
Personally, I thought the Ray-Ban Stories were pretty cool. They are well designed for what they are and fun to use. I find it hard to imagine going out and buying them at their premium price, but I’m neither dedicated to Instagram nor stylish enough to speak for the target demographic.
But if you’ve always wanted to make hands-free cooking videos while wearing designer glasses, today is your lucky day.
The Ray-Ban Stories are available online and at Ray-Ban stores in Ireland, US, UK, Canada, Australia and Italy starting today (September 9). They cost € 329 for basic frames, € 359 with polarized lenses, € 409 for transition lenses and at variable prices for corrective lenses.