What a time to be alive. You can now walk around with a pair of glasses on your face and livestream everything that you see in front of you. But if anyone buys the new Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses expecting anything close to the rumored Apple Glass, they're going to be left very disappointed indeed.
These new smart glasses, announced officially last week, are actually Meta's second attempt at making Ray-Ban sunglasses that are "smart." There's voice control, cameras, microphones, and speakers. And because they're based on the iconic Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses you won't look like you're wearing anything too weird. But that's not really the point.
The point? Well, that's a good question. Because unless you're a YouTuber or an "influencer," there doesn't seem to be a point at all. In fact, calling these things smart glasses seems to be a bit of a stretch. They're more cool than smart. They're cool glasses.
More cool than smart
Let's start things off with what these glasses can do, because as much as most people shouldn't buy them, these things do have some cool stuff going on.
The most obvious is the inclusion of a new camera, upgraded over last year's model. It's no longer a 5-megapixel potato but rather an upgraded 12-megapixel ultrawide affair, making for much better results. It also takes higher-quality photos than before while videos are recorded in portrait (for the 'gram, presumably) and have a 1080p resolution.
There are microphones so your videos have sound, and there are built-in speakers so that you can listen to music or make calls. I'm told there is an improved bass response and better noise suppression, too. All good things to have.
But what does all that mean? Well, those cameras let you livestream your day to your Instagram followers, if that's something you really want to do. There's a privacy LED that warns other people you're capturing their actions, as you'd expect. Meta says that "privacy continues to be at the core of the product," which might make some giggle a little. Meta. Privacy?
In terms of looks, there are 21 styles and colors to choose from and you can even have clear lenses instead of tinted ones if you want, but none of this is cheap. These Ray-Bans sell for $299 but you do get a charging case included. The Meta View companion app can be installed from the App Store, and you're going to need that to make all the magic happen. Cool? Cool.
What does smart look like?
As you've probably noticed by now, I'm not convinced these things are really all that smart. That being said, I'm not sure I have a problem with Meta or Ray-Ban calling them that because, compared to my Oakley Holbrooks (much nicer than Wayfarers, by the way) they are smart. But are they really smart?
When people hear the phrase "smart glasses," I'd wager that these aren't what spring to mind. The public-facing Google Glass project might have been dead and buried for years now, but there's no denying that "smart" applied there. Those glasses had a screen that was projected into your line of vision to display information about your surroundings. That's smart in a way we expect Apple's augmented reality future to be. The iPhone already does it with Apple Maps and other third-party solutions. Putting that on your face is what makes glasses smart. Not letting you stream your trip to the mall. And listening to music? The Oakley Thump sunglasses were doing that back in 2004. Were they good? Not really. Were they smart? Absolutely not.
Meta's sunglasses? They're just Snapchat Spectacles with a luxury eyewear band name attached.
The smart people will wait
Those of us who want truly smart glasses will have to wait because they don't exist yet.
We want Google Glass without the awkwardness. Apple Glass promises that, although the wait is expected to be a long one. We don't even have Vision Pro yet, and that's going to be a huge headset. Turning even some of that tech into a pair of glasses is going to take time.
Will it be worth the wait? Hopefully. Will Apple Glass be expensive? No doubt. But you can guarantee that Apple won't ship a pair of glasses with a camera in and call them smart.
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Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.
Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.