We learned two things about Facebook today. First, it’s working on it Project aria, an experimental platform that eventually leads to AR glasses that transmit data to your face. Next, we learned that they are working with sunglasses maker Ray-Ban to make some of the company’s fancy glasses for consumer use.
Here’s the thing: while it’s clear that AR glasses will reach a mass audience at some point, maybe even in the next ten years, we definitely won’t need fancy “ARay bans” soon. The world doesn’t yet know why it needs AR glasses. That is why these partnerships are far too early.
AR glasses don’t have a killer use case. Like the snap glasses and Amazon Echo Frames have proven that wanting to take photos with your face or chat with a voice assistant about your specs isn’t high on the list of needs. Additionally, Google Glass showed us that even a heavily optimized and clipped ocular surface is fun, but definitely doesn’t meet mainstream needs.
Facebook isn’t the crew that publishes these either. While we might be wrong, hardware from businesses traditionally only available online is consistently terrible. Aside from a few hits from Amazon, no service company has been able to do hardware well. Creating a walled garden in a constellation of products works in a company where you can redo the hardware design. One-off devices that are thrown into the world usually fail (see also: Facebook’s portal).
A luxury first launch model always fails. The Apple Watch didn’t become convincing until it became clear it was saving lives, and Apple doubled that off, offering heartwarming stories of people who survived heart attacks for wearing a 40mm piece of silicone on. You definitely no longer lead with the Hermes partnership.
All of this is a simple thought: it’s great that Facebook is experimenting with AR devices, but I doubt that this is the company we’ll be buying our first AR glasses from. There are many business uses for AR, and I definitely saw the value of putting a high-density sheet of information right into my eyeballs. But we’re going to need something that really works, not a pair of wayfarers connected to my crazy uncle who keeps sharing disguised Qanon posts.