As you’ve likely heard by now, Facebook and Ray-Ban last week unveiled their long-awaited smart glasses. The operative term is “smart” versus “AR” as there is no optical system that projects visuals. However there are elements of, and foundations for, audio AR experiences.
This aligns to some degree with our pre-launch speculation around Facebook’s lite AR approach, but Facebook went even “lighter” than we predicted. We mean that literally in terms of device weight and bulk; but also figuratively, as the actual on-device AR is light to non-existent.
But that’s the tradeoff for achieving Ray-Ban Stories’ intended style and wearability. Among smart glasses to date, including Snap Spectacles and Bose Frames, Stories are the closest to real sunglasses. And they’re aided in that mission by the iconic Wayfarers format.
All this leads up to Facebook’s real goal: Ray-Ban Stories are a stepping stone towards “full AR.” To achieve that endpoint, Facebook knows that wearability is the first step to gradually condition users to accept face-worn tech. Let’s call it Facebook’s AR training wheels.
As background for Facebook’s training wheels play, one of its motivations traces back to its failure to build and market a hardware device in the smartphone era. There, it’s beholden to the physical touchpoints and operating systems further down the stack that Apple and Google own.
So it now wants to avoid that fate for the next generation of hardware, which it believes will be headworn immersive tech….otherwise known as AR and VR. The billions it spends to do this is to future proof itself, and to gain full-stack advantages for computing’s next era.
And Facebook’s desire to leapfrog smartphones (where it doesn’t have a dog in the fight) to headworn tech (where it does) can be detected in Mark Zuckerberg’s rhetoric. It’s clear that he believes — in words and in sheer dollars — that AR glasses will replace smartphones.
“Ray-Ban Stories are an important step toward a future when phones are no longer a central part of our lives,” he said during Ray-Ban Stories’ launch video, “and you won’t have to choose between interacting with a device or interacting with the world around you.”
All of the above is to say that Facebook is playing a long game with AR and VR. As noted, Ray-Ban Stories’ primary but understated goal is to acclimate the world to faceworn tech. The thought is that when “full AR” arrives, it won’t require rigorous uphill consumer education.
“We believe that this is an important step on the road to developing the ultimate augmented reality glasses,” said Zuckerberg in the same video. “There’s a lot of technology that still needs to be developed and miniaturized to deliver the AR glasses that we all envision for the future.”
Meanwhile, speaking of understated, there are a few unsung aspects of Ray-Ban Stories that approach AR. Specifically, audio features let users listen to music and receive phone calls, making the device a sort of love child of Snap Spectacles and Amazon Echo Frames.
Moreover, audio content will be a key component of AR experiences — both on its own and in tandem with visuals. As with camera-based functions of these new frames, Facebook will test the waters of social dynamics for audio AR, and will gain insights that steer its eventual AR glasses.
Going back on some of the statements made above, Ray-Ban Stories aren’t totally devoid of visual AR features….it just doesn’t happen on-device. Like Snap Spectacles’ third generation, pictures and stereoscopic video captured through the device can be augmented later in SparkAR.
Otherwise, notable aspects of Ray-Ban Stories include their potential use cases. That includes any media capture that gains value by being hands-free. As usual, prime use cases will organically develop over time, but early examples include DJs, sports, and family footage.
It’s also notable that Facebook wasn’t assertive with its branding, as it’s arguably done in other hardware such as Oculus Quest 2. It seems that it’s become a bit more self-aware about the stigma that it carries by ceding this device’s top billing to the iconic Ray-Ban brand.
Whether or not that brand stigma impacts Ray-Ban Stories’ adoption, this won’t be a mass-market device. The world isn’t ready for faceworn tech en masse. But that’s sort of the point: Facebook isn’t out for hardware revenue but to plant seeds for its stake in AR’s future.