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Facebook's Path Into Wearables Will Be an Uphill Climb

By Travis Hoium – Sep 14, 2021 at 11:30AM

Key Points

  • Facebook is launching its first "smart" glasses with Ray-Ban called Ray-Ban Stories.
  • The glasses don't include augmented reality technology but do include cameras, audio, and voice controls.
  • Now consumers will need to decide if they want to buy hardware devices from Facebook.

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Even if Facebook's hardware is great, there are barriers to it being easy to use.

Facebook (META 0.62%) has made its first move into everyday wearable technology. Last week, the company announced Ray-Ban sunglasses called Ray-Ban Stories that will integrate Facebook technology. 

On the surface, the glasses with cameras, a microphone, and speakers seem aimed directly at Snap's (SNAP -0.20%) Spectacles, which really pioneered the wearable glasses concept. And given that both companies are interested in augmented reality (AR), they might be moving in the direction of AR. But the reality is that today's Facebook glasses are more of a competitor to Apple's (AAPL -2.12%) AirPods, and they show why wearables may be a bigger lift than the tech stock giant would like. 

Person wearing smart glasses.

Image source: Getty Images.

The Facebook Ray-Bans

The Stories sunglasses made by Ray-Ban will cost $299 and include a number of technology features. Users can: 

  • Capture pictures and video.
  • Make phone calls.
  • Play music.
  • Use voice control with Facebook Assistant.

The glasses need to connect to the Facebook View app, which is a separate app specifically for the glasses that can connect to Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp. 

It's worth noting that these are not AR glasses as some have been anticipating (including myself). Looking at the features list, I'd say they're probably more comparable to AirPods integrated into sunglasses than AR glasses. 

Facebook's biggest problem

The challenge Facebook faces going from a social media software app to a hardware company is that it doesn't own the core operating system. Whether you're setting up a virtual reality (VR) headset or a pair of Ray-Ban Stories glasses, you need a smartphone to get started. That makes Apple's iOS or Alphabet's (GOOG -0.84%) (GOOGL -0.90%) Android a key cog in the ecosystem. 

This is most evident when Facebook wants to add features like a voice assistant to glasses. It requires another app to operate (and presumably, the app has to be open). AirPods, on the other hand, work with Siri as soon as they're connected. 

Facebook is clearly trying to create its own ecosystem in virtual reality, and that could eventually extend to augmented reality glasses. But for now, glasses are dependent on iOS and Android operating systems to function, and that will hamper some of the user experience. 

Facebook is playing the long game

As much as I'm skeptical of this iteration of Facebook glasses, this isn't the end for Facebook. The company is leveraging what it's learned in video, audio, and voice from other products like VR headsets and put them into a pair of glasses. I expect the company will continue building on that knowledge and adding technology like AR over the next few years. 

I don't see Ray-Ban Stories being a big seller for Facebook; it's more of a starting line for everyday wearables. The big unknowns are whether or not customers want a product like this and if any other big tech companies will join the glasses market. For now, Facebook has a first-mover advantage, and a compelling video and audio product with Ray-Ban. 

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Travis Hoium owns shares of Apple and Snap Inc. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Apple, and Facebook. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long March 2023 $120 calls on Apple and short March 2023 $130 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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