They’re not AR-enabled, and they don’t feature Facebook branding, but today we’ve been given our first look at The Social Network’s new smart glasses, made in partnership with Ray Ban, which come in a range of fashionable styles that largely disguise the fact that you could be recording everything that you see.

Ray Ban Stories

The glasses, called Ray Ban ‘Stories’ (yep, even sunglass makers are now getting into Stories), largely achieve their key intention upfront, in being a fashionable looking wearable device – because as Google Glass showed us, if your smart glasses look too nerdy, no matter how functional they are, nobody’s going to wear them.

The glasses are available in three styles, each based on traditional Ray Ban designs, including the ever-popular ‘Wayfarer’, one of the only sunglass styles that looks good on almost anybody.

Ray Ban Stories

Under the hood – or more operatively, built into the frame – Facebook has developed a new multi-camera hub which enables the user to record what they’re seeing at any given time. You simply tap the button on the top of the arm, and the recording begins, providing an easy way to capture your experiences, without taking you out of the moment.

Which is just like Snapchat’s Spectacles, which Snap released, oh, about 5 years back.

So given that you’ve been able to purchase pretty much the exact same device for some time, what makes Facebook’s variation stand out, and will get consumers to fork out their hard-earned cash to own a pair?

First, the technology is better. Ray Ban Stories include dual 5-megapixel cameras, which is around double the resolution of the latest version of Spectacles. That will ensure your captured visuals look their best, while the device also benefits from Facebook’s advanced capture stabilization tech, providing another means to maximize your content.

Facebook has also added open ear speakers into its device, so you can listen to music, or take phone calls through your glasses, a major bonus, while Facebook’s also made it possible to activate glasses capture via voice command. There’s also in-built storage, with the capacity to save up to 30 videos or 500 photos on the device, which you can then download to a companion app.

Ray Ban Stories app

However, the most important feature is that they are more visually appealing, and they are also easier to connect with Facebook, which is utilized by about 6.5 times as many people as Snapchat.

This is also important in the context of Instagram, especially in relation to Instagram Stories, and you can bet that Facebook will seek to introduce a slew of new features and capabilities to assist promote Ray Ban Stories use and increase the number of people that use the gadget.

However, it will be fascinating to watch how Facebook approaches its marketing efforts in this area. People are likely to be wary of wearing Facebook-connected cameras on their faces, given the company’s checkered history with data privacy. Onlookers will no doubt be squinting suspiciously at anybody wearing the new glasses, ready to pounce on potentially unlawful capture of their image (note: Facebook has also added external LEDs to indicate when a user is recording through the glasses).

There will also be a slew of fresh conspiracy theories circulating about Facebook users being targeted with advertisements based on what they have viewed. Given all of the anticipated perspectives, you would expect Facebook to have devised strategies to prevent the inevitable backlash, which may restrict adoption and hinder growth. However, this has not been the case.

In this respect, Facebook has likely learned some key lessons from its first big consumer hardware push for its Portal smart speaker device. At launch, many people proudly proclaimed that they would never bring a Facebook-connected camera into their home, while several reviewers and privacy advocates outright stated that ‘nobody should buy this device’ because of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Facebook’s overall approach to data safety.

Yet, even so, even though it took a little while to weather that initial storm, sales of Facebook’s Portal camera have steadily climbed, boosted by the pandemic, and the increased interest in video connection, but also through smart initiatives by the Facebook team – like providing free Portals to nursing homes to help keep residents connected to their families.

The issue then becomes, what value do Facebook’s smart glasses really provide, and how can it similarly increase take-up, while simultaneously reducing hesitation, by aligning with important use cases?

A camera-enabled gadget that is connected to your viewpoint or a way to make phone calls on your face are neither necessary nor desirable, particularly given the fact that we already have smartphones that can do the same thing. Even if it requires a little more work on the user’s part, is that little annoyance worth spending $299 on a new phone?

Perhaps Facebook’s most compelling argument will be to those who are in the market for new glasses: if you’re going to spend X amount on sunglasses anyhow, why not purchase these, which contain extra features?

But even in that scenario, if Facebook’s ultimate goal is to release another version of the gadget in the future that has full AR overlay capabilities, why would consumers spend money today on the inferior version when they can just save their money until the use case becomes more compelling?

If Apple or Snap manage to beat Facebook to the punch, you may be able to get your hands on a set of augmented reality glasses in the meantime. Given all of the factors, it’s difficult to see Ray Ban Stories being a huge success at this point, much alone going outside the tech fanboy/girl market.

However, as previously said, it is possible that Zuck and company have a plan. Perhaps this first iteration is simply a step in the development process, and will allow Facebook to gauge demand and interest before investing in the next shift. Alternatively, it may simply be a matter of stabilizing its supply chains and getting the ball rolling on another hardware offering before moving forward with a full augmented reality product.

At this point, it is unclear what route Facebook is taking or how soon it will be able to transition into a full-fledged augmented reality gadget. However, it is taking the plunge and going towards smart glasses, which will ultimately develop into an augmented reality companion tool.

That is a significant leap, and it is possible that this is the only way Facebook will be able to accomplish it: by skipping to the next stone in the pond rather than attempting to reach the shore in one bound.

Ray Ban Stories are available from today, via the Ray Ban store online and in retail stores in the US, Ireland, Canada, the UK, Italy and Australia. The glasses will also be made available in more regions soon.