A couple weeks ago Facebook announced a partnership to produce smartglasses with Ray-Ban and bring them to market in 2021. At least one industry veteran doesn’t think they can deliver a product that will succeed.
In fact, she says, Facebook’s smartglasses are essentially a PR move.
Apple, on the other hand, will deliver working smartglasses two years later, in 2023.
“I think what this thing is about is trying to get some kind of appeal from consumers to get them to understand that AR [augmented reality] is actually a thing,” Irena Cronin told me on the TechFirst podcast recently. “Let’s say you want to video something and then place it on Facebook. Okay, cool … but how much harder is that than taking your phone out?”
Watch the interview behind this story:
Irena Cronin is the CEO of Infinite Retina, a spatial computing agency, and the co-author of a book with the same name.
Based on her experience with existing industry options, cost points, and the form factor Facebook is choosing — cool, sleek, light smartglasses that look just like iconic Ray-Ban sunglasses — Cronin thinks the feature set just won’t make the consumer cut. She expects the Facebook smartglasses to have a monochrome display but nothing three-dimensional, no sensors for 6DOF (six degrees of freedom) environment interactivity, and the ability to show notifications or directions. She doesn’t expect voice command capability, but does expect an on-board camera.
Essentially, says Cronin, Facebook smartglasses are going to be the equivalent of a Madison Avenue boutique for a fashion brand: a big statement, a marketing win, and a commercial failure.
“This is a way to say: ‘We’re actually a consumer goods company … we have mass appeal,’” Cronin says.
In addition, she adds, it’s a way for Facebook to prime the pump for true augmented reality smartglasses when they are actually ready for prime time.
Listen to the interview behind this story on TechFirst:
Ultimately, Cronin’s saying that we’ve seen the ability to take video and show notifications with “baby” smartglasses. We’ve seen it in Focals by North, now acquired by Google. We’ve see it in Spectacles by Snap. We’ve seen it in virtually every other version of smartglasses out there — including Google Glasses which in a very real way kicked off the category — and it’s not compelling enough.
What will be compelling, Cronin says, is Apple’s smartglasses. They’ll hit the market, according to rumors and guesstimates, in 2023, two years after Facebook’s smartglasses.
Apple’s smartglasses will be full color and three dimensional, Cronin says. They’ll offer full augmented reality with a holographic display and 6DOF. They’ll also be voice-activated and AI driven with a new version of Siri specifically optimized for spatial computing.
All of that is currently rumor and speculation, of course, but we do know the whole tech work is working hard on smartglasses, the potential heir apparent to smartphones as the dominant computing platform of the future. Apple, Google, and Facebook are winning steady streams of patents here, as is Amazon. The core challenges for each are packing enough capability and battery life into something people actually want to wear … and that doesn’t freak everyone else out.
One thing we know for sure.
A 2021 launch date gives Facebook 15 months to deliver, which means they have some time to improve on what existing market players have delivered. So it’s possible that they’ll surprise Cronin and other industry watchers with more capability.
But ultimately, whatever Facebook and Ray-Ban bring to market has to deliver actual value:
“It’s got to have a practical use,” Cronin says. “It can’t be just shiny and you know, the best in tech. Everyday people have to have some use for it, otherwise it’s just not going to sell to enough people. And that’s where the crux of this all is.”
Get a full transcript of our conversation here.