It’s been a while since we’ve heard about Facebook’s collaboration with Ray-Ban on a pair of augmented reality glasses. But in comments during an earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed that no, he hasn’t forgotten about the device. It’ll actually be the company’s next hardware release.
The smart glasses came up while Zuckerberg was describing his vision for “building the next computing platform” aka mixed reality. In particular, he emphasised that VR is moving beyond gaming and that mixed reality is already morphing into a social platform.
“But we’re also seeing compelling use cases and other forms of entertainment as well, as well as work, creativity, and fitness. Looking ahead here, the next product release will be the launch of our first smart glasses from Ray-Ban in partnership with EssilorLuxottica,” Zuckerberg said on the call. “The glasses have their iconic form factor and they let you do some pretty neat things.” He went on to say that he was excited for “full augmented reality glasses in the future.”
Details were light, and Zuckerberg didn’t comment on any timelines, but you can still read between the lines. When its partnership with Ray-Ban was announced back in 2019, Facebook had already been working on this “Orion” glasses project for a number of years. At the time, it was thought the glasses wouldn’t launch until 2023. Then, last year Zuckerberg said its first consumer smart glasses would arrive in 2021 under the Ray-Ban brand.
So, most likely, the AR glasses Zuckerberg was talking about are less like Google Glass and more like Amazon’s Echo Frames. Last year, the company told the Verge that these first glasses wouldn’t be considered AR glasses, and they wouldn’t have any sort of integrated display. The more lofty ideas Facebook’s been spitting lately — soft wristbands, haptic gloves, facial recognition — seem to refer to either Project Aria or another future version of consumer smart glasses down the road.
As for the “neat things” these first-gen glasses will enable, it’s anyone’s guess. Similar products, like the Echo Frames, the Bose Frames, and Razer’s Anzu glasses are more like glorified headphones for hyper-specific situations. Without a display, the most likely scenario is that they allow you to take calls, listen to music, or access a digital assistant. Or, it could be something like the first iteration of the Bose Frames, which tried and failed to create an ecosystem of audio-only apps.
More nauseating was Zuckerberg’s pitch that these glasses would be part of a larger “metaverse” — the latest buzzword tech CEOs have been bandying about lately. For Facebook, it apparently refers to a virtual environment for people to work, socialise, and waste their money in. A more three-dimensional internet that you can interact with. If that’s the end goal, then affordable and accessible smart glasses would be a clever gateway into its virtual ecosystem. It’s already done that with Oculus to an extent, but smart glasses would arguably be more appealing to the average person as they’re more discreet, mobile, and don’t scream “gamer nerd.”
This is a lot of ifs and Facebook will undoubtedly face stiff competition. Apple is also rumoured to be working on its own mixed reality headset and smart glasses. Other tech companies, like Oppo and Samsung, have also been rumoured to be working on smart glasses. Meanwhile, Microsoft and Google have been making AR glasses and headsets for years and have already carved out a pretty strong niche in the enterprise space.
Facebook would also have to overcome people’s perception that it’s a privacy nightmare for all this to work — and needless to say, that’s a tall order. Even so, it seems determined to barrel ahead with its wearable plans. On top of smart glasses, the company is also rumoured to be working on a smartwatch.