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The present and future of smart glasses

Smart glasses have generally been met with as much skepticism as excitement over the possibilities they offer. The biggest flop I can think of is the Google Glass. There were privacy concerns, the look was just too nerdy, and they came in at a steep price over a thousand dollars. It just wasn’t time for it yet.

Is it time to bring them back? Facebook seems to think so. But the company’s approach is more for sharing moments on social media and not as a do-it-all device or the next smartphone without the phone. 

Yes, the case serves as its charging case, too

You can take calls and listen to music on this device, though. It comes with mics and speakers. But first and foremost, it’s used to take photos and capture 30 seconds or less videos from that first-person perspective.

And its glasses are branded as Ray-Ban Stories. The social media company partnered with Ray-Ban’s parent company EssilorLuxottica to develop them. 

These glasses are USD 299 (around PHP 14,957 converted) and come in 20 style combinations (including the classic Wayfarer) available online and in select retail stores in the US, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Italy, and the UK. You can even get the glasses as regular shades or with transition lenses or as prescription glasses. The styles and customizability already set them apart from their predecessors.

Perhaps its closest rival would be Snap’s Spectacles. But Snapchat’s influence has waned significantly in the last few years. The concept for the glasses is similar, though. (And this won’t be Facebook’s first time copying an idea Snapchat started. Hello, Stories!)

The Ray-Ban Stories come equipped with dual-integrated 5-megapixel cameras at both ends of the glasses. You can take photos and videos by either tapping on the frame or via voice commands with Facebook Assistant. A hard-wired, white capture LED will light up when you’re recording to let your subject know you’re recording. But as Wall Street Journal‘s Joanna Stern pointed out in her video, the people she captured videos of hardly knew she was recording until she told them.

That LED light is also viewable from within the frame, so you know you’re able to trigger the glasses to record. It can act as a notification light for your smartphone, too.

One of the security features Facebook included is that you can only record short clips. Not only does that work for your social media use (like the aforementioned Stories), but it prevents malicious users from recording people who haven’t consented for too long. 

The glasses come with a physical on and off switch so that you can turn these off in private spaces. You can quickly stop your recording as well. Facebook has created a privacy page for these glasses on its website detailing the security measures it took to make sure your privacy is kept, and your recordings and photos are secure.

The company wants you to remember that tampering with the LED is against its terms of service. You should obey laws and don’t use these glasses for harmful activities. And don’t drive while using these glasses.

When you shoot photos and videos, the device will immediately upload these to the new Facebook View app, or at least upload them when it’s connected to a phone. It’s a standalone app separate from the company’s main app. The company says it won’t have access to your content on this app, nor will it use your photos and videos for personalized ads. Your photos and videos won’t be shared on social media instantly without your permission. But, of course, once you share them, then the app’s terms will apply.

The Facebook View app is also where you can tweak your preferences, manage voice commands and notifications, and see and control what information you’ll share with Facebook. The app is also where you’ll get to do minor edits to your footage or photos before sharing on your social media of choice.

Facebook isn’t the only company thinking about smart glasses, though. Xiaomi shared its smart glasses concept a few days after Facebook unveiled the Ray-Ban Stories.

The difference is Xiaomi’s Smart Glasses is a concept that we won’t see in its present form. The company makes it clear that it won’t make this wearable. But the idea shows us what the tech company is thinking about in this space.

And the tech giant’s concept is more of that evolution of what Google Glass was, with that more do-it-all approach, but these look more like regular glasses than a prop from a science fiction movie.

Xiaomi envisions these glasses as capable of displaying messages and notifications, a way to make calls, navigate an area, take photos, and show live translations. The company will make that all possible with MicroLED optical waveguide technology. 

According to the company, this tech lowers the design space needed in structural design and helps lower the device’s overall weight, pegged at 51g. And MicroLED’s emissive property allows for brighter displays and deeper blacks. According to Xiaomi, when you compare OLEDs to MicroLEDs, the latter has a higher pixel density and longer lifespan while maintaining a simpler structure, making it a more compact display and it allows for easier screen integration.

That tech is still quite pricey to develop, so it isn’t surprising that Xiaomi isn’t rushing to push any product like the Smart Glasses into production.

The display is roughly the size of a grain of rice, allowing it to fit perfectly within the glasses’ frame. Xiaomi also envisions these glasses to have an ultra-efficient monochrome display capable of reaching two million nits of peak brightness. The company opted for this solution to make it viewable even in harsh direct sunlight. With optical waveguide technology that refracts lights at 180 degrees, the MicroLED screen can accurately transmit light beams to the human eye and help give you the full image. Xiaomi goes into more detail about the tech in its blog post.

Xiaomi sees this device as an independent smart wearable. It won’t be relying on your smartphone to work. It will come equipped with a 5-megapixel camera, built-in mic, quad-core ARM processor, battery, touchpad, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modules, and run on Android’s operating system.

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