Mark Zuckerberg does not wear glasses.
In the mid-2000s he had bad eyesight, and he needed glasses to see, as this old video from CBS News shows. But since then he has rarely appeared in public wearing spectacles. Presumably, he wears contact lenses. Maybe he had laser surgery. Or perhaps he just chooses to go without.
And yet he thinks that we all “want” to wear smart glasses and augmented reality (AR) contact lenses.
At Facebook’s F8 conference for developers, he told the crowd, “We all know where we want this to get eventually … We all want glasses or eventually contact lenses that look and feel normal but let us overlay all kinds of information and digital objects on top of the real world.”
“We all want glasses”?
Really? We do?
Take it from me. I have worn glasses since I was about 7 years old and have never met anyone who “wants” to wear them. I don’t want to wear them. I don’t want to wear contact lenses, either. Even with the best contacts, you still have to touch your own eyes with your fingers twice a day to wear them, and they repeatedly remind you that you have a strange film sitting on your eyeballs all day.
Glasses are a type of disability. People who don’t need glasses are lucky. Most team sports are off-limits to spectacles-wearers. Try heading the ball on a soccer field while wearing glasses — you’ll break them. Anything to do with water or swimming is an instant problem. Even walking into a warm room in winter disables a glasses-person for a couple of minutes while they wait for the fog to clear. This is why so many people wear contact lenses. And even the contacts-people would gladly give them up if there was a cure for short-sightedness.
Persuading people with healthy eyes to adopt a device for the handicapped is a “barrier to adoption,” to use tech industry lingo.
So why is Zuckerberg so confident that Facebook will persuade us all to wear glasses with smart screens to take care of all our communication needs?
Well, for one thing, about 61% of adults require vision correction and they are already wearing glasses or contacts. That’s a pretty large “installed base” of hardware waiting for an operating system and an app store, as far as Facebook is concerned. If the trendy designer glasses you are wearing right now also delivered your messages and let you Facetime with your friends — but were otherwise identical in appearance — you’d consider it, right?
Let’s not get carried away. History shows that humans are not keen on wearing machinery on their faces. Here is a funny article about Google Glass, the failed smart glasses product, written by an idiot who got caught up in the hype back in 2014. The main problem with Glass was that the device was so odd -looking it drew attention to the fact you were wearing them. Glass users became freaks. A Business Insider writer was mugged just because he wore them on a reporting assignment.
But there are examples of people wanting to wear glasses for fun and utility. The Oculus VR system (owned by Facebook) and its many competitors (HTC’s Vive, Samsung’s Gear) show there is a nascent market for people who want a more immersive digital experience via a headset. The complaint about them is that people don’t like spending extended periods inside an isolating environment that makes you blind.
And the limited release of Snap Inc’s Spectacles, which look like sunglasses but shoot circular video for use inside Snapchat, was positively received.
It’s that last bit that is most overlooked. Snap Spectacles aren’t amazing as a standalone product. What makes them acceptable for consumers is the fact that they look like sunglasses. Evan Spiegel was photographed wearing a pair before they were released and it was months before anyone even noticed.
Sunglasses are the one type of eyewear that even people who don’t need glasses voluntarily choose to wear. People love sunglasses. They look cool. They are fun. They make you look sexy. And when you’ve got them on it means the sun is out, so things are already looking better.
So maybe Zuckerberg is onto something. They key is to not alter the appearance of the existing hardware, but rather to just add software. At that point, the idea of using my glasses to chat with a friend who is miles away, while an image of her sits on the sofa next to me, starts to feel a lot more plausible.