While we are all still in love with the Apple Vision Pro, I want to bring your attention to something you may not be thinking about yet but should: Ray-Ban Metas. That’s because the current generation of smart glasses and the new Ray-Ban Meta Skyler collection is the first augmented device I have ever owned that is designed for women, and I love it. It’s as close to a home run for smart glasses as I have yet to experience. While there are some concerns I’ll get into, I am pretty sure the XR community has not quite yet grasped how important these are for our ecosystem and how approachable they are as a first-timer head-worn device.

Let’s look quickly at the timeline: when the new Ray-Ban Metas were announced last fall I was among the curious, but the Wayfarer design didn’t totally resonate. And even though the unisex design can be worn by anyone the shape didn’t fit my face. The idea of wearing smart glasses every day as my regular sunglasses, while interesting, ended-up with me abandoning my shopping cart with little remorse. Their predecessor, Ray-Ban Meta Stories, had launched in 2021 – but lacked an AI assistant. So they also didn’t make much sense, since they weren’t all that “smart”, and the mid-pandemic timing wouldn’t yet make them a must-have for influencers on the go.

This spring, however, Ray-Ban Meta launched another style in their collection – the Skyler – which is a take on the 1960s classic “inspired by an era of jet-set style”, targeted more towards women. The super cute Chalky Gray Frames and Cinnamon Pink lenses did something most tech purchases so far don’t do, they were designed with women in mind, so after the AR Try-on (which made the glasses look a little smaller than in IRL), I thought that it would be worth pulling the trigger and testing them out. I opted for pick-up at Lenscrafters (who knew?) and figured with 30 days to return them, it was worth giving the $299 sunglasses a go and they might even help me streamline content creation at the upcoming Augmented World Expo in Long Beach.

And at the very least, wearing the Ray-Ban Meta glasses at AWE would be the one place on earth where I could be certain that a blinking recording indicator light would be easily recognized and understood by all. It was worth a try. And now I am wondering if the Skyler by the end of the summer will be a sleeper hit that every influencer will be wearing before long.

Wearing the Ray-Ban Meta glasses at AWE would be the one place on earth where I could be certain that a blinking recording indicator light would be easily recognized and understood by all.

I should also add that in between the first Ray-Ban Meta 2.0 release and purchasing the Skyler’s, I also had a recent visit to a boutique eyewear shop in Sausalito. I had tried on everything from $79 no-brand shades to $495 Tom Fords, so I had tried on a lot of shades and got the download on what to look for in a frame and lens. I came away with the impression that the single most differentiating factor of a regular pair of sunglasses is having quality polarized lenses, and perhaps rocking a luxury brand.

After heading to Ray-Ban.com and opting for the in-store pick-up, from the moment that I unboxed them, the clerk at the store and I were both pretty excited. In fact, since she hadn’t seen the Skyler in the store yet, she also tried them on – and she became the first of easily 15 people who said they wanted to buy the glasses once they had tried them on and interacted with the AI assistant.

Emily wearing Skyler, while also using AR Try On

Here are my two biggest first impressions from the glasses. The first was as I walked through a crowded summertime airport listening to a Spotify playlist, this was pretty close to a superpower. At the very least, it gave me a much needed sensory veil from the crowd but without losing situational awareness. I’m certainly aware I’m in an early adopter moment, but I don’t feel how I felt when I was in the reverse situation, and met my first friend wearing Google Glass a decade ago and had that creepy “are you recording me” vibe.

Now, much has already been said about the Google Glass form factor – but the fact that the Ray-Ban Metas are augmenting my audio with an AI assistant, take photos and video without taking me out of the moment, and that I can have a lightweight device that still feels like I’m just wearing sunglasses, is astounding. That was my second a-ha, that there is a perfectly crushable device right now that augments reality in camouflage.

As I walked through a crowded summertime airport listening to a Spotify playlist, this was pretty close to a superpower, or at the very least, it gave me a much-needed sensory veil from the crowd but without losing situational awareness.

Also worth mentioning, putting the glasses on my son and having him translate German into English (the software currently supports voice commands in English, French, and Italian) by using the “Hey Meta Look and…” command, which enables us to translate menus, analyze a photo, or even caption and suggest clever titles for posts on Instagram, blew his ten-year-old mind. There are some features I haven’t stress-tested yet, like 30-minute livestreams.

But with the Meta View app I feel less anxious about being able to review content before publishing immediately to Instagram or Facebook, because there is a sort-of natural way for me to check-in and make sure that this is something I want to post. As with any live-streaming, you run the risk of an unexpected interruption (like a motorcycle revving past) – but if you’re already into live-streaming, this is par for the course.

As for the photo and video, I am enamored with the convenience, but as a professional photographer I am not yet able to give up my iPhone or my DSLR, but as a companion to the phone it’s really the perfect tether. Keep in mind that you can’t access the AI functions unless you’re connected to the phone, so while you can be offline and take photos and video, you’re not able to publish them or view them until you’re reconnected to the phone. I found myself keeping the smart functions turned off a lot, and then just wanting to wear them as sunglasses too. But if you’re at a place where you might quickly need to take a photo or start recording, then you’ll want to keep them turned on and that will drain the battery a lot faster.

With regards to composition of the photos and the video, I felt like the next logical step would be for them to include some sort of zoom feature, but without any projection or additional lenses (which would add weight and reduce the lightweight sunglasses feeling). I still feel that although they lack that feature, maybe getting used to composing content from eye-level is enough to think about at the moment. I would assume by looking at the photos that it’s sitting at something like 35mm, so as to approximate realistic human vision, but minus the wider field of view.

As a professional photographer I am not yet able to give up my iPhone, but as a companion to the phone it’s really the perfect tether.

Also, from a storytelling perspective, there’s nothing wrong with a :60 second recording limit, and that’s about as much patience and attention span anyone has these days. One thing AVP users and Ray-Ban Meta users can agree on, it’s quite difficult to keep your head really still and think of your neck as a gimbal to stabilize that video. Even with some forethought, and a bit of skill, nothing is worse than looking at choppy footage – humans make poor steady cams.

Depending on your subject, it can be awkward to physically move in closer or further away from someone while recording. For example, during my interview below with Mike, you can see that I got closer to him easily with an iPhone while recording, but would that feel the same if the subject is being recorded by someone getting awkwardly close to them while recording with the glasses? Every culture keeps a unique non-verbal physical distance, aka proxemics. So without zoom, this will remain a work in progress.

Emily Olman (Left), Photo Credit: Dave Lorenzini, Charlie Fink and Mike Boland (Center) Photo Credit: Emily Olman, Dave Lorenzini (Right), Photo Credit: Emily Olman

Back at the show: I was delighted, but not surprised, to find that a few of my friends were already rocking their Ray-Ban Metas, and so Dave Lorenzini and I took alternating selfies of each other at the Hyatt Regency cabanas (pictured left and right above). I also got to overhear the demos happening at the Meta booth at the show, and decided to have a few words with their marketing team, because I felt like the demos were absolutely not doing justice to the device.

This was another reminder that you can have the most amazing tech in the world, but the value proposition needs to be front and center. So take note, Meta, and pay attention to the ability to stay in the moment of what you’re doing and not need to fumble for your cell phone while enjoying the great outdoors, or while out and about this summer. That’s a killer use case.

Not everything about the device is roses, and there are some security features that were concerning for me. Like what if any one of the people that I had just given the glasses to wear had wanted to read my last email, hear my last messages – or even just the fact that, unlike Siri, “Hey Meta” is a wake phrase for any person wearing my glasses with my phone on and in proximity. Siri, in comparison, will not even respond to my daughter, whose voice is the closest to mine of anyone’s on earth. That did have me wondering about situations where a stolen or lost pair of glasses might be problematic for the owner. I also have heard that the device might heat up after some extended live-streaming – but again, for wearing them around a show and intermittent content captures, it was unnoticeable.

Amongst the demos I gave was to a familiar face, AR Insider’s Chief Analyst Mike Boland. You can watch his poolside first impressions above. Mike’s insights add great value to the conversation, and he’s spot-on about this being the lightweight form factor that we have been trying to achieve. And while we are missing a small enhancement that we will surely see in the future – namely a visual augmentation – in the meantime, augmenting our world with audio is an extraordinary leap towards our future lightweight “vision”, and one that is already wholly worth experiencing.

The Short History and Long Future of Smart Glasses

Lastly, there is no mistaking that Meta is all-in on smart glasses. Even after downloading the content to the Meta View app and independently publishing the photos to my Instagram account, IG correctly labeled and indicated that these were shot on Meta Ray Bans. This is the first time I have seen an image’s metadata used so cleverly to indicate which camera had shot the images. This, tag however, didn’t display on Facebook, as it was probably not invented here (Snap?). But I have a feeling that in the future, you can expect to see this all the time.

So kudos to Meta, and kudos to Ray-Ban. The XR community may not think that these are “truly AR”, but I see you. At $299 a pair, I think you’re really positioned well to own this early adopter market in a serious way. Also, thanks for the first wearable designed with a woman’s face in mind. I don’t think I realized just how much I had been missing this until Skyler came along.

AR Insider’s Editor-at-Large Emily Olman is an XR community builder, roving journalist, and CEO & Chief Media Officer of Hopscotch Interactive.

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