Meta’s Quest to Replace Smartphones with Smart Glasses

Have the recently unveiled Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses ignited a new era of AI eyewear?
Why Meta Ray-Ban Will Fail
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Uber-cool and not forgotten, smart glasses are back. Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the next generation Ray Ban Meta Smart Glasses during the Meta Connect event that was recently held at their headquarters in Menlo Park, California. The announcement comes exactly two years after releasing first generation Ray Ban Stories, which did not offer the advanced capabilities that the new glasses offer today. 

Mark Zuckerberg unveiling smart glasses at Meta Connect. Source: Meta

Multimodality Via Eyewear

Released as a range of swanky designs and colour choices from Ray Ban, the smart glasses can allow you to take calls, play music, capture photos, videos, and even live stream them. “These are the first smart glasses that are built and shipped with Meta AI in them, which you can interact with, hands-free, wherever you go” said Zuckerberg. By simply saying, ‘Hey Meta’, a user can start interacting with the device and even control features. With the free software update coming to the glasses, “it will become multimodal,” as per Zuckerberg. However, this feature will be available in the US as beta. 

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Conversational Interaction with Meta Smart glasses. Source: Meta

Hustling To Stay Ahead

Meta has emphasised the ease with which such glasses can be operated, thereby helping with getting rid of the constraints posed by hand-held cameras or even smartphones. With Meta AI soon to be integrated, the company’s push of chatbot-kind interface on hardware puts them ahead of other big tech players who are trying to dip their feet in the same waters. Sam Altman’s recent meet with Jony Ive sparked the rumour of building an Apple-like hardware device with ChatGPT prowess, however, details of what’s cooking may be revealed in the upcoming OpenAI Devday. 

There have also been rumours of Microsoft developing smart glasses that might have GPT-4V image recognition.  

Earlier this year, Meta had unveiled its roadmap for AR/VR hardware to its employees, in which it was mentioned that the third-generation of smart glasses will have have a viewfinder to serve multiple functions such as reading messages, scanning QR codes, and even have a neural interface band to control the glasses with hand movements. However this is expected only in 2025. In VR however, Meta continues to pull itself ahead with their recent launch of mixed reality Quest 3 headsets – a little ahead of Apple Vision Pro which is slated for release next year. 

The Buzz Around Smart Glasses

The current buzz on integrating AI on hardware may be heating up, but one major player brought it to the limelight a decade ago. Launched in 2013, Google glasses was probably way ahead of its time. Owing to lack of clarity on product-market fit, and privacy concerns, the product did not take off and was shelved in 2015. Interestingly, Google seemed to not give up in the segment. In 2020, the company acquired Canadian smart glass maker North Inc, however, no development ever since has happened. 

Meta’s foray into the segment started in 2021, when it released Ray Ban Stories – their first generation smart glasses. With multiple capabilities such as answering calls, clicking photos and videos, among many others, the user stats are not that pretty. Out of the 300,000 units sold between September 2021 and February 2023, only 9% of them (around 27,000) are still being used. 

The reaction for the latest Meta announcement has however been mixed. While some called out privacy issues, others lauded the deal. A user on Hacker News called the pricing a big plus point. With the latest Meta Wayfarer model selling at $299, and a regular Wayfarer going for $171, spending an additional $128 will provide a sunglass with camera, headphones, and other features. 

To Kill Two Birds With One Stone

The biggest differentiator from any of the previous smart glasses is the video-streaming capability that Meta has brought. Through the option of streaming live videos onto Facebook and Instagram, Meta is probably trying ways to push its social media platform adoption too. Though Facebook has 3 billion users, younger users are quitting the platform. Furthermore, the decline of Threads, an Instagram spin-off for messaging, got Meta working on ways to attract back users to its platforms. Possibly, trying to retain the Meta ecosystem in the process. 

With the latest release, the new age of smart glasses that has the potential to replace smartphones has probably begun, and other prominent tech players might follow suit. However, going by the trend the smart glasses set in the past, it seems like an arduous challenge ahead. 

Vandana Nair
As a rare blend of engineering, MBA, and journalism degree, Vandana Nair brings a unique combination of technical know-how, business acumen, and storytelling skills to the table. Her insatiable curiosity for all things startups, businesses, and AI technologies ensures that there's always a fresh and insightful perspective to her reporting.

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