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Meta’s big vision for face computers might be better than Apple’s

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Face computers are the future, but the world as we know it isn’t quite ready. That’s the conclusion both Apple and Meta have arrived at. You can see it in the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses and the Apple Vision Pro. Both fall short of what we imagine true augmented reality ought to be, but that’s not their ultimate purpose. They’re designed to prime the public for the future by giving them a taste of it now.

And Meta’s smart glasses do a better job of that so far.

I’m not saying the Vision Pro is a bad product. I haven’t spent enough time with it, but what time I did spend cemented that it is the most technologically impressive mixed reality headset I’ve ever tried. If we’re talking pure hardware innovation, the Vision Pro blasts Meta’s smart glasses into the stratosphere. But where Apple threw its formidable resources into building the best possible headset with current technology, Meta decided to build cheaper gadgets that people want to use now.

The sales back me up. Quest 3 sales pushed the Meta’s Reality Labs to record revenue last quarter. We didn’t get a breakdown for the Ray-Ban Meta glasses, but demand and engagement were strong enough that they’re making more. Case in point, my wearable skeptic spouse is obsessed with them. They have their own pair now. This nerd went and got a prescription for them, along with transition lenses so they can wear them everywhere. They make a lot of car content like POV driving videos and in their words, these glasses aren’t perfect but they are a game-changer because they’ll never have to strap a GoPro to their head again. Otherwise, it’s a normal pair of stylish Ray-Bans.

It’s possible their enthusiasm for the Meta glasses may wane. For now, I’m having cognitive whiplash watching my spouse, who has long thought smart glasses are a dumb idea, latch onto these so quickly.

The average person would prefer a face computer to look like this than a full-on headset.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Meanwhile, there are videos of early adopters wearing the Vision Pro out in the real world. They’re goofy. Even if you like the hardware, you can’t help but feel the urge to channel your inner Nelson Muntz, point, and laugh.

Apple wasn’t wrong to focus on building the best headset it could. Apple appeals to the masses. Apple building a headset signals to the tech unsavvy that it can be done. Selling it to consumers says it’s already happening. Never mind that these kinds of headsets have been around for a decade. Apple is doing it now, and it’s going to be the best.

This banks heavily on Apple’s reputation and people trusting in it enough to ignore the ludicrous cost of entry. Wow enough people with potential, prowess, and prestige, and they’ll buy into it long enough for you to fix what doesn’t work. There’s a few wearable precedents. People thought wearing AirPods was silly at first. I remember people warning they’d get snatched out of ears on the subway. Now everyone on the train wears them. When it launched, the Apple Watch was an overpriced gadget that didn’t know what it was supposed to be. It didn’t find its footing until the Series 3. Now, it’s the most popular smartwatch in the world. Theoretically, the Vision Pro could do the same thing. But despite strong preorders, demand is expected to taper off.

The Vision Pro has truly impressive tech, but people don’t really know what to do with spatial computing yet.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

That said, Meta’s more accessible approach is better for digesting what AR could be. The glasses easily slot into the life you currently lead. Sure, the AI assistant beta was wonky when I tried it, but that’s more a limitation of AI assistants needing hyper-specific prompts. Being able to have AI tell you what’s in a picture you took with your glasses is useful. It’s more audio than visual AR, but it’s a step toward normalizing using a face computer to interact with real objects in real space. Especially versus the Vision Pro, which currently leans more into virtual and mixed reality. It’s cool to pull up your Mac’s screen and work on the Moon, but that’s not really AR.

And it’s also about seven times the price of the Quest 3, Meta’s current answer to the Vision Pro. It’s not as flashy as the Vision Pro, but right now you can do a lot more with it. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was eager to point that out in his impromptu review of Apple’s headset. Meta’s strategy is focusing on what you can do now, and doing that gives people a reason to stick around. If they stick around, they’ve inherently bought into your idea of the future.

It’s too early to say how Apple’s tried-and-true approach will pan out. But a common complaint I’ve seen from Vision Pro buyers is they don’t know what to do with it besides watch movies. It’s also too early to say whether Meta glasses users will stick around long term. (They certainly didn’t for the Ray-Ban Stories.) But we do know one thing: at the end of his Vision Pro review, Zuckerberg said the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses sales have far exceeded his hopes.



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