the big thing
This week, the tech industry made a very small step firmly in the direction of a very unknown future. And it’s pretty clear that what comes next could revamp society in a way that makes the past 15 years of social web-led shifts seem quaint.
This week, I spent some time with Facebook’s first pair of smart glasses, made in partnership with Ray-Ban. I reviewed them in-depth here, so give that a read if you’re very curious, but here were a few of my closing notes:
“…while we’ve certainly come a long way since the Google Glass debut in 2013, face-mounted cameras still feel icky when it comes to privacy in public and this device will undoubtedly reignite that conversation in a major way. Baggage aside, my broadest takeaway is that the Ray-Ban Stories feel like a very important product — one that actually sells the idea of face-worn wearables.
The glasses are smartly designed and can be worn discreetly. That said, it’s clear Facebook made plenty of sacrifices to achieve such an aggressive form factor; the glasses honestly don’t do anything particularly well — photo and video quality is pretty lackluster, the in-frame speakers perform poorly outdoors and calls aren’t the most pleasant experience. For $299, that might make the first-generation a tough sell for some. But all that said, I think Facebook mostly made the right compromises for a product that they’ve repeatedly indicated is meant to be a stepping stone on the road toward an augmented reality future.”
Like I said above, feature-wise they are really nothing all that special. BUT, they were also the first device that I’ve tried in years of covering AR, VR and face-computing that didn’t make me feel like an absolute weirdo in public. That’s a massive barrier for a product class like this to cross, even for a simple-featured device without AR/VR capabilities.
It also made everything feel a bit less theoretical on the privacy/ethics/slippery slope front.
I walked all throughout San Francisco with these on my face this past week, including into indoor spaces like grocery stores, and even though I wasn’t recording anything most of the time, I never seemed to get a second glance from anyone. But I had a computer on my face with cameras, microphones and speakers connected to the web. That discreet ability felt oddly empowering.
Though we’re still clearly a few years from devices like these catching on in earnest, the fact is that every trillion dollar tech company has an AR glasses-led future firmly on their radar — with Apple and Facebook in particular barreling towards it. Chances are this stuff is actually going to be a full-fledged thing this decade.
What’s also apparent is that we aren’t even prepared for the broader societal adjustment that happens when millions of these dinky Ray-Bans actually end up on people’s faces — putting cameras an inch from their eyes and further tearing down barriers between the public world and public web. What comes when there are transparent screens in those glasses altering the world around the wearer?
We’ve tasted plenty of the web’s impact in the past decade, but societal change caused by the web still seems like its at the bottom of a hockey stick and everything could shift very quickly very soon. It’s a reason to be very excited about the internet’s future, but should also be a cause for major concern as we see existing and rising stakeholders grow even more powerful. It’s a lot to think about over a pair of dumb little smart sunglasses, but the future moves quickly and everything starts somewhere.