Can Facebook's smart glasses find success in competitive wearables market?

From functionality to price, Mark Zuckerberg and his team seem to have learnt from others' mistakes

A model wears smart glasses – called Ray-Ban Stories – made by Facebook and Ray-Ban. Photo: AFP
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Facebook's recently launched smart glasses seem to fare comparatively well where others have failed.

But how the device handles the matter of data privacy could be central to its fortunes.

Ray-Ban Stories, produced in partnership with the iconic sunglasses maker EssilorLuxottica, was released to relatively little hype, unlike the Google Glass in 2013, which the search engine company touted as the next big thing in augmented reality at that time.

But Facebook seems to have learnt from Google's mistakes.

Unlike Glass, which grappled with a number of problems, including utility, design and a hefty $1,500 price tag, Stories starts at $299. It comes in 20 designs, which could further boost its appeal and help it compete in a challenging market.

Google Glass was made available to only a few interested users back in 2013 for $1,500. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Revenue from sales of the smart glasses is expected to reach $4.5 billion by 2025 and $30.1bn by 2030, with annual sales expected to touch 22 million units by this year, said ImmersivEdge Advisers.

Competition is rife in this area with major tech titans including Microsoft, Amazon and Snapchat, with its Spectacles, venturing into producing smart glasses. Even Apple and Samsung are rumoured to be working on their own versions.

Although smart glasses market is a growing segment, questions about privacy have hobbled the success of previous models.

However, Facebook – which is no stranger to privacy suits – has taken a number of steps to address these concerns. Stories will not use facial recognition tech, it will limit videos to 30 seconds and it will need a separate Facebook View app to share content in an effort to beef up security.

Hind Hobeika, product manager at Facebook Reality Labs, said disabling sharing was done by design.

"What we want to do with Ray-Ban Stories is to listen to our customers in order to understand where to go, but also to make sure that as we're building our road map, we are being responsible," she told CNET.

Stories, which has dual 5MP cameras and built-in microphones, also has an LED that can be seen from about eight metres away, which lets people know that the device is capturing images or recording video. The View app also includes tips and reminders discouraging users from using the device while driving or in restrooms.

Facebook is also placing a huge bet on a market that is small but still holds much promise. While the reaction from its investors was largely subdued with the Stories launch, the social media company's push into the sector makes sense, given its knowledge of the segment thanks to its Oculus line-up of AR headsets.

The Covid-19 pandemic could cast a pall on smart glass sales but the industry is set to recover in the near term, said Ben Delaney, ImmersivEdge Advisers' chief executive.

What we want to do with Ray-Ban Stories is to listen to our customers in order to understand where to go, but also to make sure that as we're building our roadmap, we are being responsible
Hind Hobeika, product manager at Facebook Reality Labs

"While the Covid-19 pandemic will have a major impact on the sector, we project that the smart glasses industry will be fully recovered by 2025," he said in the report.

"Though total shipments will be less than we anticipated prior to the pandemic, smart glasses will largely supplant smartphones and smartwatches by the end of the decade."

Updated: September 29, 2021, 5:30 AM