Intel and Google are just two of the technology giants to have tried and failed to take the concept of smart glasses into the mainstream.
The former abandoned its Vaunt smart glasses earlier this year after heavy investment in R&D and acquisitions, while Google’s foray into what was expected to be a thriving consumer sector has pivoted to a niche product for industrial applications.
Social media platform Snap has also had limited success with its smart glasses.
It’s clear that the challenge for any company seeking to gain traction in the AR wearables space is huge. A product that works isn’t enough.
Genuine usefulness will be key, along with safety, discretion, comfort, and respect for others’ privacy and security, for example. Plus, the practical pros have to outweigh the inevitable problem of looking like a ‘glasshole’.
Facebook is working on an AR headset
None of that has deterred Facebook from setting out to develop an AR wearable. In an interview with TechCrunch (below), Facebook’s head of AR, Fiscus Kirkpatrick, admitted that the social media platform is working on just such a headset.
— TechCrunch (@TechCrunch) October 24, 2018
“Well of course we’re working on it,” he said. “We are building hardware products. We’re going forward on this… We want to see those glasses come into reality, and I think we want to play our part in helping to bring them there.”
But he acknowledged that the task isn’t straightforward and there is no certainty of success. “The glasses that we dream of are quite a way away,” he said.
“We’re doing a lot of research… we have no product to announce right now. But we have a lot of very talented people doing compelling, cutting-edge research that we hope plays a part in the future of headsets.”
Internet of Business says
It’s clear that Facebook’s plans for AR hardware are in the early stages. But there’s no doubting the significance that a successful product launch in this space could have. After all, Facebook has always been reliant on the hardware of its rivals.
For example, Apple, Google, and Samsung dominate the smartphone market, and Apple may yet be the company to popularise AR technology.
But the road to the AR-enabled future looks rocky for Facebook. Brendan Iribe, co-founder of Facebook-owned VR hardware maker Oculus, announced his intention to leave the company in October.
The decision has been linked to internal shake-ups and the cancellation of Oculus’ Rift 2 VR headset, amid claims that Facebook execs and the Oculus leadership have differing opinions on the direction the VR company should take.
Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger left Facebook last month, while WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum jumped ship earlier this year after voicing concerns about the company’s approach to data privacy.
Facebook has even employed the UK’s discredited former deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg – a one-time critic of the company’s culture and attitude to tax – to smooth over its political relationships, suggesting that the company has a tin ear on the question of trust.
Which brings us back to the notion of smart glasses. Given Facebook’s recent approach to data security and disregard for the privacy of its millions of users, regaining trust from a sceptical public may be the single greatest challenge ahead – particularly with a product that promises to be intrusive by design.
Facebook recently joined the debate about GDPR-style regulation in the US, speaking out in favour of such a law. But there is more to that than meets the eye: in the US, Facebook was among the companies that opposed California’s new data privacy laws.
The reason is simple: like Google, Facebook wants a watered-down federal solution that offers fewer consumer protections. After all, Facebook’s users are its real ‘product’. In this light, its ability to popularise AR must be in doubt.
Additional analysis: Chris Middleton.