Meta’s Ray-Ban Glasses, a Bold Experiment Hidden in Plain Sight
Recently Meta announced the latest version of their Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses. The newest version improves upon their prior model in a number of incremental ways (smaller, lighter, louder). Despite the lackluster performance of the first version, I continue to hold the belief that Meta may succeed where Google failed. I'll take it a step further and assert that while it may appear that the universally recognizable design of the Ray-Ban Wayfarer recedes into the background sea of “new” technology, in actuality, it represents a daring stride into the future of mobile devices—effectively concealed in plain sight. In fact, I’m wondering if the next big thing for mobile devices has a lot in common with the concept of "Inheritance" explored in the Whitney Museum of Art’s recent exhibition.
During the past week, I had the pleasure of taking my first-year students from NYU Stern's interdisciplinary Business, Technology, and Entrepreneurship (BTE) program to the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City. Our goal was to provide students with a firsthand opportunity to witness and experience the unique challenge of embracing bold risks in their own lives. While a visit to the Metropolitan Museum might offer a chance to appreciate established works of art by masters like Picasso and Monet, the Whitney Museum demands more engagement with the art to truly grasp its significance. We are asked to embark on a unique journey alongside the artist, attempting to catch a glimpse of the world from the artist's lens, who is creating something new that if done right, won’t be fully appreciated just yet. In this way modern art helps us travel from the past and into the future.
In fact, one of main exhibitions on display at the Whitney explores the concept of “Inheritance” –forcing us to examine “what we have been left with or received from the past…whether celebratory or painful.” While the Whitney exhibition explored more serious inheritance challenges within American history, there are intriguing parallels with tech innovation. When the Google founders set off to create Google Glass, they had identified a real problem – our constant fixation on our devices. Addicted to mobile phones, they now help us navigate everything from a trip to our local store (Google Maps), taking a train (NYC MTA), finding entertainment (Netflix, TikTok), connecting with friends (Name your app), and even finding a moment for meditation (Calm App). An alien landing on earth might not know that a mobile device had a significant part of its origination as a phone. What is the tipping point for when teachers will no longer say “put away your phones” and begin referring to them as something else entirely?
Maybe the next big thing for mobile devices has a lot in common with the concept of "Inheritance” as well. The Whitney's exploration of what we inherit from the past, whether celebratory or painful, can be seen as a reflection of our relationship with technology. We've inherited the convenience and connectivity of smartphones, but also the detachment and distraction they can bring. When we think about what we've inherited from the past, it's not just physical objects or traditions; it's also the way we interact with the world. Google Glass had recognized a real problem in our society—the constant downward gaze at our devices, disconnecting us from the real world and the people around us. Meta's new smart glasses integrate tech into a familiar analog form, encouraging us to lift our heads, both literally and metaphorically.
To be clear, Meta’s reputation means their agenda is likely far less altruistic. Rather, Meta's strategic push into the smart glasses market positions them uniquely to control both the hardware and software of the next significant mobile device trend. Apple's success serves as a testament to this strategy, as they not only dominated the mobile phone market but also established an ecosystem centered around their iOS operating platform. In this context, Meta's innovation transcends the physical smart glasses; it encompasses the underlying software and services (including AI) that will redefine how we interact with the digital world and maybe even the metaverse.
The Whitney's exhibit forces us to confront what we've received from the past and what we want to pass on to the future. An optimistic read of Meta's smart glasses argues for a more balanced and integrated way of living in a digitally connected world. In the end, Meta might not be successful, but they are following the right threads left behind from Google. Whatever personal mobile technology captures our zeitgeist next is likely to pair the physical and digital worlds in better alignment than where we are today.