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Facebook made billions of dollars in advertising revenue after it cloned Stories, Snapchat’s popular disappearing photos feature. Selling smart glasses — a Snapchat product that bombed — will be less lucrative.
The glasses that Facebook has created with Ray-Ban are at least less dorky-looking than previous designs. Ray-Ban’s Franco-Italian owner EssilorLuxottica has kept its focus on premium products. The cameras and microphones attached to the model — confusingly also called “Stories” — are unobtrusive. At $299 they are more expensive than low-end smartphones but cheaper than mid-range cameras.
Facebook has injected its tech into the smart glasses while Ray-Ban is responsible for their design and sale. The profit split has not been made public. But doling out returns may not be something either company has to spend much time calculating.
Uptake for the glasses is likely to be limited. If Facebook had been paying attention to the billions of photos and videos that are uploaded to social media each day it would realise how much people like turning their cameras on themselves. Glasses that allow the wearer to take photos that do not typically include selfies will have limited appeal. Privacy complaints will also deter buyers.
Wearable tech makers want to move internet users away from smartphones towards augmented reality devices that can be used hands-free. Given nearly two-thirds of adults in the US wear glasses, according to the Vision Council, it makes sense to use them for integrated tech.
There may be a parallel with Oculus, the virtual reality headset maker that Facebook bought for $2bn seven years ago. VR remains a niche product. Facebook did not mention Oculus in its last quarterly earnings report. Sales are grouped into the “other” category that make up less than 2 per cent of Facebook revenues.
The new Ray-Ban smart glasses do not include futuristic VR capabilities. Perhaps Facebook wants to ease users into wearable tech slowly. But it will take something more exciting than camera glasses to do it.
The Lex team is interested in hearing more from readers. Please tell us what you think of big tech’s latest attempt to sell camera glasses in the comments section below.