September 25, 2020

Facebook’s AR Ray-Bans Are a Terrible Idea

Illustration for article titled Facebooks AR Ray-Bans Are a Stylish but Horrible Idea

Photo: Facebook

We learned two things about Facebook today. First, it’s working on Project Aria, an experimental platform that will eventually lead to a pair of AR glasses that will stream data to your face. Next, we learned that it’s in partnership with sunglasses manufacturer Ray-Ban to make, we assume, a fancy pair of the company’s signature glasses for consumer use.

Here’s the thing: While it’s clear that AR glasses will eventually reach a mass audience, perhaps even in the next decade, we definitely don’t need a pair of fancy “ARay-Bans” anytime soon. The world doesn’t yet know why it needs AR glasses. That’s why these partnerships are way too early.

AR glasses don’t have a killer use case. As the Snap Spectacles and Amazon’s Echo Frames have proven, the desire to take photos with your face or chat with a voice assistant through your specs isn’t high on anyone’s list of needs. Further, Google Glass showed us that even a deeply streamlined and truncated eye interface is fun but does definitely not fill a mainstream need.

Facebook also isn’t the crew to release these. While we could be wrong, hardware from traditionally online-only companies is uniformly terrible. Barring a few hits from Amazon, no services company has been able to do hardware well. Creating a walled garden inside a constellation of products works in a company where you are able to iterate on hardware design. One-off devices dumped into the world usually fail (see also: Facebook’s Portal).

A luxury-first launch model always fails. The Apple Watch only got compelling when it was clear that it was saving lives and Apple doubled down on that, offering heartwarming stories of people who survived heart attacks because they strapped on a 40-mm hunk of silicon. They definitely don’t lead with the Hermes partnership anymore.

All of this amounts to a simple thought: It’s great that Facebook is experimenting with AR devices, but I doubt it’s the company we’ll buy our first AR glasses from. There are plenty of business uses for AR, and I could definitely see the value of having a sheet of high-density information piped right into my eyeballs. But we will need something that really works, not a pair of Wayfarers connected to my loony uncle who keeps sharing camouflaged Qanon posts.

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