SAN FRANCISCO – Last Saturday, after walking three miles through the Presidio, I stood in the middle of a crowd of tourists looking at the Golden Gate Bridge. As the crowd took pictures of the landmark, I decided to join.
But instead of reaching into my pocket for my iPhone, I touched the side of my Ray-Ban sunglasses until I heard the click of the shutter. Then I uploaded the photos the sunglasses had just taken to my phone.
The process is instant, simple, and unobtrusive – and it’s powered by Facebook, which has partnered with Ray-Ban. Their new line of eyeglasses, called Ray-Ban Stories and announced on Thursday, can take photos, record videos, answer phone calls, and play music and podcasts.
It all makes me feel like I’m being pulled into some inevitable future dreamed of by people far more technical than me, one in which the line between the real world and the technology that powers it. disappeared.
For years, Silicon Valley has pursued a vision similar to the one in William Gibson’s novel, where sensors and cameras are interwoven into the daily lives and clothing of billions of people. However, the tech companies that pursue these ideas often fall short of them, as people shun wearable computers – especially on their faces.
Remember Google Glass, the smart glasses that Google co-founder Sergey Brin introduced when he jumped out of a plane? That project was born, with bars in San Francisco at one point barring people wearing Glasses – otherwise known as the “Glass Pit” – from entering. Then there’s Snap’s Spectacles, smart glasses that focus more on fashion and novelty when it comes to 10-second video clips. That product, too, was never really groundbreaking.
Now, Facebook is aiming to usher in an era when people are more and more comfortable sharing their lives digitally, starting with what’s in front of them.
“We asked ourselves, how do we create a product that makes people really present where they are?” Andrew Bosworth, head of Facebook Reality Labs, said in an interview. “Isn’t that better than having to take out your phone and hold it in front of you every time you want to capture a moment?”
Mr. Bosworth dismissed claims that Facebook was catching up to what others had left unfinished. “This product has never been tried before because we have never had a design like this before,” he said, adding that Facebook and Ray-Ban are more focused on eyewear fashion than eyewear. technology inside the frame.
“Eyeglasses are a very specific category that changes the way you look,” said Rocco Basilico, wearables director at Luxottica, which owns Ray-Ban. “We started this product with design and we refuse to compromise on that design.”
Be realistic for a second. The new glasses, which start at $299 and come in more than 20 styles, face hurdles beyond Silicon Valley’s early history with smart glasses. Facebook has long come under scrutiny for how it handles people’s personal data. Using glasses to secretly film people is certainly cause for concern, not to mention what Facebook can do with the videos people collect.
I asked if Facebook’s trademark baggage was why its name wasn’t in the title of the glasses. The company says that is not the case.
Jeremy Greenberg, policy advisor at the Future Privacy Forum, a privacy nonprofit partly funded by Facebook for “Facebook is not naive to the fact that other smart glasses have failed in the past”. However, he added, “the public’s expectations for privacy have changed since the earlier smart glasses launch days.”
With all that in mind, I’ve been using the new Facebook Ray-Bans to shoot a few days over the past week.
Upon closer inspection, I found the frame has two cameras, two micro speakers, three microphones and a Snapdragon computer processor. They also come with a charging case that can be plugged into any computer via a USB-C cable. When fully charged, the glasses can be used for about six hours.
Requires a Facebook account. They are also paired with a smartphone app, Facebook View. After recording a video – the glasses can shoot up to 35 30-second videos or take 500 photos – people can upload their content wirelessly to the app, where the photos are encrypted. From Facebook View, people can share content to social networks or messaging apps, and save photos directly to the phone’s device storage outside of the Facebook app.
To address privacy concerns, a small indicator light flashes when the glasses are recording, notifying people that they are being photographed or filmed. When you set up the Facebook View app, it also displays a prompt asking the user to “respect those around you” and asking if it “feels appropriate” to take a photo or video at this time. or not. The app even invites people to “do a little demo” to show others that they’re being recorded.
However, users may have other hesitations, as I did. The glasses have a sound-activated feature, called the Facebook Assistant, which can be turned on to take photos and record videos hands-free by saying, “Hey, Facebook.”
For me, that’s a sticking point. What do people around me think when they hear me say, “Hey, Facebook, take a picture”? Can I still look great doing that? Can anyone?
Furthermore, to help Facebook improve the assistant, people are asked to allow the device to store recordings of their voice interactions, which will then be reviewed by a combination of humans and algorithms. machine learning. I don’t like that and imagine others wouldn’t be too concerned, no matter how gentle their voice interactions might be.
(It is possible to opt out of the Assistant and users can view and delete their transcripts if they wish.)
Many of these privacy concerns are out of the question for technologists, who see wearables as social distancing objects. For Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, the ultimate goal is to eventually release a pair of fully augmented reality smart glasses that put a sort of virtual overlay on the world in front of everyone. .
That idea is another step on the road to the metaverse, Zuckerberg’s term for how parts of the virtual and real world will eventually come together and share different parts of each other. Maybe one day I can use a pair of Facebook AR glasses to put a digital hat on myself, which other people wearing AR glasses can see.
In a few moments during last Saturday’s hike, I was able to lay out a vision of the future that Facebook executives are so excited about.
Riding through the many trails in the Presidio gave me dazzling vistas that I could capture with just my voice while still clutching my dog’s leash in one hand and my backpack in the other. Capturing cityscapes is as easy as giving voice commands while my phone is still in my pocket.
Even better, I just look like a normal guy wearing sunglasses, not a weird-faced computer guy.
An added bonus is that no one (except my dog) can hear me say “Hey, Facebook” when I’m alone on the trails. But in a city surrounded by people, I confess that I can stick to the edge of my frame to take pictures.