Is Facebook (META -2.09%) ready to roll out smart glasses? Reports abound that Facebook has joined up with leading glasses maker Luxottica to produce the next level of augmented reality (AR) in the form of smart glasses.
Although this is a new venture for the social media company, it's gotten its feet wet in AR over a number of years. In 2017, it released the Facebook Camera and Camera Effects Platform, where users can insert layers of AR through their smartphone cameras to enhance everyday life. Included in the Camera Effects Platform was AR Studio, a tool for developers to add in their own applications to the Facebook experience.
Facebook knows how to wait it out while boosting confidence with investors. It took Facebook five years to turn a profit after Mark Zuckerberg founded the company in his Harvard dorm room in 2009, but it was already valued at $6.5 billion at that time. Ten years later, it's valued at $517 billion, with $55.8 billion in revenue for 2018, a 37% increase from the year before, making Facebook one of the top tech stocks on the market.
A second chance for Luxottica
Luxottica, headquartered in Milan, Italy, is the largest eyewear company in the world, manufacturing and selling several house brands like Ray-Ban and Oakley, and licensing many designer eyeglasses brands such as Giorgio Armani and Tory Burch. It also owns U.S. eyewear chains Lenscrafters and Pearle Vision.
The company first created a strategic alliance with Alphabet's (GOOG -1.18%) (GOOGL -1.31%) Google to produce designer smart glasses back in 2014, after the first release of Google Glass didn't cut it. The second round didn't explode with success, either. The sleeker design didn't whet people's appetites, especially with a price tag that remained high and many problems with the negative social reaction to wearing AR glasses in public.
While Google was panned after the failure, Luxottica was left largely blameless. The company has a strong incentive to dip its big toe back into the pool, namely solidifying its control of the world eyewear market as tech companies push through this next wave of AR.
Will a successful version of smart glasses please stand up?
Let's face it, there have been many tries at an AR glasses platform over the past few years, and there are several choices on the market right now. The industry as a whole has not taken off as quickly as developers were hoping or imagining. Why has that been the case?
The market still doesn't seem ready to embrace the idea of a wearable smart eye device. The smart glasses are expensive, they look funny, and customers don't really need them, with slick, new smartphones rolling off of the belt fast enough to keep users happy.
However, as with all things technology, companies need to stay several steps ahead of the market. Considering all of the resounding failures in this market, no one's leaving the ring. They seem sure that it will only be a bit more time before smart glasses take off, and with the right mix of key ingredients, that time could soon be here.
Waiting for the right moment
The smart glasses currently on the market come with all sorts of features and price ranges, most north of $600 and topping off at over $1,000. While Facebook is taking its time, other companies are taking the leap and the risk of introducing their own models.
The strategic decision to wait it out could work in Facebook's favor, though, as the company waits for rivals' products to gain more widespread adoption. The high-end, expensive models such as Google Enterprise and Microsoft Hololens, priced at $3,500, are aimed at professionals, and even the cheaper models are still too pricey for the masses.
However, it appears that the Facebook smart glasses won't debut until 2023 at the earliest. Will that prove to be the time when the market is finally ripe for embracing a wearable smartphone? Maybe.
Facebook has to meet at the crossroads of competitive pricing, good-looking product design, and features that customers want. The partnership with the Luxottica is a good step toward meeting the second goal. Facebook continues to perfect its AR offerings instead of rushing to bring them to market, which should help address the third goal. The big question is: Will the price be right? Stay tuned.