Spectacular! Everything you need to know about Facebook's new smart glasses
14 September 2021
Facebook has officially launched its Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses, designed to allow you to stay in the moment and record the world as you see it.
The social media giant first announced its intention to release smart glasses last September at its annual AR and VR conference, and they finally made their official debut on Thursday, 9 September.
Ray-Ban Stories is the first product produced from Facebook’s multi-year partnership with Ray-Ban’s parent company, EssilorLuxottica.
“We’re excited to launch Ray-Ban Stories: smart glasses that give you a new way to capture photos and video, share your adventures and listen to music or take phone calls — so you can stay present with friends, family and the world around you,” Facebook stated in a blog post.
Functionality and purpose
The glasses can take photos and record up to 30-second videos using dual-integrated 5-megapixel cameras. Meanwhile, built-in speakers allow wearers to listen to podcasts and music or take a call, with a touchpad on the side of the frame to allow for volume adjustment and background noise suppression for high-quality audio.
Ray-Ban Stories are available online and at dedicated Ray-Ban Stores in the US, Canada, Australia, Italy and the UK. Starting at $299, they are available in 20 variations: users can choose from five colours and a range of lenses, including clear, sun and prescription. Despite containing two speakers, two cameras and three microphones, they are only five grams heavier and just a few millimetres thicker than Ray-Ban’s original Wayfarer design.
Users can also edit and share content to various apps – including Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok – using the company’s brand-new camera roll companion app, Facebook View.
The voice assistant, which is activated by the phrase “Hey, Facebook”, allows wearers to use the device hands-free. Alternatively, photos and videos can also be recorded manually via the capture button.
According to Facebook, Ray-Ban Stories will take about an hour to fully charge and the battery will last for roughly six hours with intermittent use.
Catering to a market of people who have been in and out of lockdown for the past 18 months: “Our mission is to help build tools that will help people feel connected any time, anywhere. We want to create a sense of social presence, the feeling that you’re right there with another person sharing the same space, regardless of physical distance,” Monisha Perkash, who leads Facebook’s Reality Labs division, told The Guardian.
Looking back: The history of smart glasses
The social network is not the first to produce smart glasses. Google kickstarted the movement in 2013 with its Google Glass prototype – a hands-free “ubiquitous computer” that allowed users to access the internet via voice activation – but this was put on hold in 2015 amid privacy and safety concerns. Meanwhile, Snapchat similarly incorporated augmented reality in its Spectacles – built exclusively for select ‘creators’ – which debuted in September 2016 and is now in its third generation.
Despite being hugely similar to Snapchat’s Spectacles, which have not taken off in the wider consumer market, Facebook is confident that its accessible, fashionable take on smart glasses will be a wide-ranging success. “We believe that this will be the first pair of smart glasses people will truly want to wear,” said Monisha Perkash.
Are they safe?
Coming from a company that has a long history of user privacy issues, Facebook’s smart glasses may look set to repeat Google’s mistakes. Nonetheless, the social media network has stressed that its smart glasses are “built for your privacy and others’ too” and has set up a dedicated microsite to tackle possible concerns.
Privacy features include allowing users to manage the information they share with Facebook and encrypting photos and videos. Content is not captured or shared to social media without permission, and Facebook’s teams prevent unauthorised access to your account from hackers. Further security can be ensured through features such as two-factor authentication and login alerts.
Meanwhile, a small, white LED light is designed to alert other people when a photo or video is being taken. However, the apparent dimness and subtlety of the recording light, as well as other people’s unfamiliarity with the product, may still pose privacy issues – especially since Facebook has no way of detecting whether users are violating the terms and conditions of the product by covering up this light.
“When you have an ad-driven business model, you’re incentivised to capture people’s attention. And when you have glasses as opposed to a phone, your ability to capture and influence their attention is exponentially more powerful. Those incentives, with the extra power that comes from the device, are scary as hell,” Matt Miesnieks, an AR entrepreneur, told The Times.
Amnesty International echoed Miesnieks’ concerns, saying in a tweet, “Facebook is a surveillance advertising company whose business relies on exploiting our data and invading our privacy on a vast scale.
“Now it has teamed up with Ray-Ban to sell camera glasses.
"@ray_ban have you thought this through?”
Facebook has combatted such criticism by claiming that it only collects necessary data to ensure that the glasses and the app are working correctly, and although it does ask for additional information to help it offer more personalised products, users can choose to turn off this function and prevent the company from collecting data on how individual customers use the device.
Over the next five to ten years, Facebook plans to build upon Ray-Ban Stories and develop more sophisticated augmented reality glasses that overlay 3D graphics onto the real world.
“This is just the start: Ray-Ban stories are an important step towards a future where phones are no longer a central part of our lives,” claimed CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a launch video. “You won’t have to choose between interacting with the device or interacting with the world around you.”