When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that the social network was working on its first smart glasses, he tried to dial down the hype. The glasses, he suggested during the Facebook Connect conference in September 2020, would be just a step toward a more ambitious project.
“They’re not yet augmented reality glasses,” Zuckerberg said, referring to technology that places digital images on someone’s view of the real world. “They’re on the road there.”
On Thursday, Facebook’s smart glasses — under the Ray-Ban brand — go on sale online and at some stores in the US, UK, Canada, Italy, Ireland and Australia. Called Ray-Ban Stories, the smart glasses shoot photos and 30-second videos with the press of a button. They also play music and podcasts and make calls. The glasses include a virtual assistant so you can snap photos and videos hands-free by uttering the phrase “Hey Facebook.”
The release of its first pair of smart glasses, which start at $299, shows how Facebook continues to bet on augmented reality. Zuckerberg has enthused about a future in which augmented reality glasses will let people play games on their couch next to holograms of their friends or share an experience on social media without whipping out their phones. Though Facebook’s smart glasses don’t include AR effects, they move the company closer to that goal.
(Zuckerberg has been waxing on lately about the “metaverse,” a virtual environment where people will meet up. His company also makes the Oculus headset, which relies on virtual reality, a technology that’s more immersive than AR.)
There’s still a lot you can’t do with Facebook’s smart glasses, though, and those limitations underscore how far this gadget is from becoming the next big thing. The smart glasses, which need to be recharged every six hours with a charging case, don’t let you browse Facebook, shop or play games.
“What we want to do with Ray-Ban Stories is to listen to our customers in order to understand where to go, but also to make sure that as we’re building our roadmap, we are being responsible,” Hind Hobeika, a product manager at Facebook Reality Labs, said in a video chat.
Facebook certainly isn’t the first company to try to convince people they should wear a computer on their face. Google, Snap and Amazon have released smart glasses. And the average consumer passed on all of them. (Apple and Samsung are also reportedly working on AR glasses.)
But analysts say smart glasses are part of an emerging market. In a report last year, ImmersivEdge Advisors forecast that annual sales of smart glasses will reach more than 22 million units by 2030. For some perspective, global smartphone sales totaled 1.3 billion in 2020, according to Gartner.
Ben Delaney, CEO of ImmersivEdge Advisors and lead author of the report, expects smart glasses to play a larger role in how people get directions, shop, track their fitness or learn in the classroom. Facebook executives teased the new smart glasses this week by posting videos of themselves golfing, skateboarding and fencing, among other activities.
Smart glasses also come with concerns about privacy, which Facebook doesn’t have a strong reputation for respecting. Privacy advocates still worry the technology can be abused for surveillance. Google Glass faced backlash in 2013 from people who were upset at how tough it was to tell if the device was recording video.