September 18, 2021

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Facebook enters a new market with smart glasses that take pictures and make calls

Facebook has unveiled its much-anticipated smart glasses in partnership with Ray-Ban, entering an emerging market for wearables with a focus on capturing images rather than augmented reality.

On Thursday, the social network showcased the glasses called Ray-Ban Stories, a direct competitor to Snapchat’s Spectacles. The $299 Facebook glasses, which use Ray-Ban’s classic Wayfarer frame style from EssilorLuxottica SA, allow users to take photos and videos, listen to music and answer phone calls.

While it lacks augmented reality, the technology that blends digital content with the physical world, Facebook says it plans to eventually include this functionality.

Facebook is entering an increasingly crowded market. Snap Inc, the parent company of Snapchat, first released Spectacles in 2016 with a built-in video camera. In 2019, Amazon.com launched smart glasses for taking calls and using Alexa, but these also do not include augmented reality.

In May, Snap also announced a version of Spectacles that features augmented reality capabilities, although it’s not available to consumers.

Apple plans to enter the eyewear field later this decade, with an augmented reality-based offering, Bloomberg News reports.

Ray-Ban Stories glasses from Facebook

To the naked eye, Facebook glasses don’t look much different than classic Ray-Bans. But the minimalist appearance hides a host of smart features: dual 5-megapixel camera sensors, Bluetooth 5.0 and built-in Wi-Fi to sync with the phone; the battery; enough storage space for 500 photos; and loudspeakers.

The user can take a photo by pressing and holding a button on the right side of the glasses, or they can record video by pressing it once.

There is also a touch area on the right side of the glasses for controlling music, voice assistant and calls. User can swipe left or right to adjust volume, tap to play, pause and skip music, or double tap to answer and end phone calls. There is also a basic voice assistant on Facebook.

The company hasn’t announced when it will launch real augmented reality glasses on the market, but such a device is part of the company’s long-term strategy to build what CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls a metaverse, or digital worlds where people interact together using virtual reality devices.

The future of human communication

Zuckerberg said he believes virtual and augmented reality devices are the next major platform for human communication, after mobile phones, to eventually replace some in-person interactions.

If Facebook succeeds in the hardware market, it will be able to build its advertising and messaging business without having to rely on operating systems and tools created by competitors like Apple and Google.

The company’s hardware division also sells Oculus VR headsets and Portal video chatting devices, and the company plans to add AR features to Oculus products later this year.

While the product is lagging, several years after Spectacles and eight years after Google introduced Google Glass — the search giant’s first attempt at augmented reality glasses — Facebook’s offering may still raise privacy questions among consumers, as the glasses will collect the data Facebook says it needs. Such as battery life and Wi-Fi information, as well as the required Facebook account user login credentials. Users will also have the option to share more data, including the number of photos they’ve taken and the length of videos.

The glasses are not a standalone product, so music and calls are streamed to the glasses from your iPhone or Android phone via Bluetooth. It requires the use of an iPhone or Android app called Facebook View, which is used to manage and set up your glasses.

When the user takes a photo or video, the media will appear in a section of the app. The user can then choose to download that photo or video to the device for storage and editing.

Ray-Ban Stories essentially mixes the functionality of earphones like Apple’s AirPods with sunglasses that can take pictures.

It is not clear whether such a product will find a large market, given that images captured on smartphones are much higher resolution and many phone users already have earphones. They are also significantly more expensive than regular Ray-Ban Wayfarers, which typically cost $100-$200.