Facebook recently introduced its first wearable: Ray-Ban Stories, smart sunglasses with cameras, microphones and speakers built in.If that sounds familiar, it might be because the glasses are pretty similar to what Snapchat has been doing for the last five years with Spectacles. Even the name, Ray-Ban Stories, feels like a big subtweet at Snap. But despite its head start, Spectacles have yet to be a big hit for the company. And, with a $300 price tag and Facebook’s name on the box, Ray-Ban Stories may also prove to be a difficult sell.
Both Spectacles and Ray-Ban Stories represent something much bigger to the social media companies that made them. Snapchat and Facebook are hoping to define the future of augmented reality, and are betting that camera-enabled sunglasses will help them get there.
But look closely, and the companies have taken very different approaches. While Ray-Ban Stories look pretty close to regular Wayfarers, Spectacles have never looked like a typical pair of sunglasses. Snapchat has also been more ambitious about integrating its augmented reality effects into the glasses. And the company recently began experimenting with a new set of Specs that are capable of real AR, though they aren’t for sale.
Non-AR “smart glasses” are still a niche product, but Ray-Ban Stories might be one of the best iterations yet. The frames make it easy to capture first-person photos and videos, and the built-in speakers sound surprisingly good. Most importantly, they look more like designer sunglasses than a piece of tech. But Facebook’s reputation is hard to ignore, especially when you’re wearing a camera it designed on your actual face.
But if you’re excited about the future of augmented reality, and what one day might be possible, both Ray-Ban Stories and Spectacles offer an intriguing look at how two of the biggest social media platforms are thinking about getting there.