Time will tell whether Ray-Ban Stories is a significant enough step toward AR glasses
Last week’s launch of Ray-Ban Stories, the smart glasses designed by EssilorLuxottica and built using technology from Facebook, disappointed in some circles because of the lack of augmented reality (AR) capabilities.
This is both fair and unfair: it feels like we have been waiting for consumer- and business-focused Facebook AR glasses for years, and still are, but the company was also clear when it announced that work on Ray-Ban Stories was ongoing that these would not be an immersive technology product.
What Ray-Ban Stories represents is a step on the journey toward realisation of Project Aria, Facebook’s ambitious plan to build actual AR glasses. Although still very much in the research stage, the company is working to bring the product closer to commercialisation.
And Ray-Ban Stories could be considered to be a key part of that.
Monisha Perkash, who leads the product team at Reality Labs, the division at Facebook working on AR glasses, said last week that the company is waiting “for the technology to be good enough”.
Until then, Facebook is “focused on what we can enable right now. We’re delivering the first pair of smart glasses that blend form and function.”
As Lucas Matney revealed in his review: “Facebook’s first pair of smart glasses doesn’t feel like much of a Facebook product.” Ray-Ban Stories is an EssilorLuxottica product, styled on Wayfarer and other glasses that already have an established customer base and brand loyalty.
Then there is the technology: dual integrated 5MP cameras for capturing photos and video, LED lights that warn passersby of imminent recording, speakers and a three-microphone audio array. No AR in sight.
As Charlie Fink neatly summarised, these glasses combine the best of Snap Spectacles and Bose Frames and Amazon Echo Frames, aiming to capture social media users who want an easy way of creating and sharing content, and smartphone owners who prefer to be as hands-free as possible.
These are all established markets for smart glasses and safe bets. With a product that weighs just 5g more than the designer glasses on which it is based, Facebook can test demand for a wearable device while work continues on the AR technology that will make Project Aria a reality.
But were these glasses the right step, right now? I wonder whether Facebook could have taken even a tentative step toward AR displays, producing some kind of basic immersive experience above and beyond the current competitors to Ray-Ban Stories, to better demonstrate the possibilities.
Of course, this may come with Facebook View, the iOS and Android app that enables Ray-Ban Stories wearers to import, edit and share content captured on the smart glasses to their favourite social media platforms.
This will be AR-after-the-fact but an indication of how Facebook intends to develop acceptance around smart glasses. So far, we know that “new, exclusive post-capture enhancements built into Facebook View let you create unique content to put a special spin on your posts”.
Let us hope that the company is learning from Snap and provides a suite of tools and effects that makes content creation immersive, even if the capturing is not.
Time will tell whether Ray-Ban Stories is a significant enough step toward AR glasses. For now, it feels like a step already taken by Facebook’s competitors—and arguably an opportunity missed.