- Facebook plans to build augmented reality (AR) smartglasses, per a patent filing from the social-media network’s Oculus VR unit reported on by The Drum. The move would fit squarely into the social network's growing focus on AR and mobile AR, in particular.
- The glasses would use “waveguide display” technology — similar to that used in Microsoft's HoloLens AR headset, the $3,000-a-pop system that debuted earlier this year — to let users see virtual objects superimposed on the real world.
- News of Facebook’s plan comes just weeks after the company debuted “Spaces,” a virtual social network that exists within the Oculus Rift headset.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is developing a bit of a reputation for copying innovations from Snapchat and other rivals. At first glance, Facebook’s patent application does look like nothing more than the social network’s take on Snapchat Spectacles, the picture-snapping eyewear with AR overlays.
That could prove to be particularly bad news for Snapchat, given that company’s ongoing financial woes. But there are two reasons why Snapchat needn’t fear Facebook’s planned eyewear just yet.
First, estimates are that Facebook’s AR glasses won’t be ready until sometime in 2022. That gives Snapchat, as well as Microsoft, Google (which is said to be revamping its failed Google Glass product), and Apple (which is eyeing the AR space too), a considerable headstart. Second, Facebook has a long and storied history of not doing well when it attempts to sell stuff, rather than ads.
The glasses also fit into a larger strategy for Facebook, which has shown interest in mobile AR and hardware already. In 2014, the social media platform purchased Oculus for $2 billion. Both AR technology and Oculus have had a rough go since then, but there have been some clear indications that there is real potential in the space. The breakout success of Pokemon Go has been hailed by many as an indicator that there is potential in VR. Facebook's interest reportedly fits with the platforms strategy to build a mainstream AR platform.
The rollout of AR glasses could be just the beginning for Facebook — in early August reports surfaced that the platform is developing a smart speaker with a 15-inch touchscreen and AI capabilities and a touchscreen video chat device. Facebook also recently purchased Ozlo, an AI startup that might help it rollout better AI enabled services and hardware.