Building your Minimum Viable Product. Your MVP. It’s one of the biggest buzz acronyms in tech startup land, and it’s worthy of attention – getting from nothing to ‘something’ on the way to ‘amazing’ is critical to building momentum.

But this week we’ve had a great example of an MVP that, for mine, is selling something that hurts rather than helps the path toward the final goal.

And, sadly, it’s another one from Facebook: the Ray-Ban Stories.

Facebook has loudly begun talking about the Metaverse, so much so that I figure Tim Sweeney is furious to see Zuckerberg trying to co-opt the ideas he’s been chasing for far, far longer and turning them into generic corporate guff.

Setting that aside, Facebook clearly has a goal to build augmented reality glasses for use in everyday life. It’s a Hard Problem, fitting high accuracy positional data overlays into comfortable lenses we can wear while walking through the world. Facebook bought Oculus and is pursuing this with gusto.

The Ray-Ban Stories should be seen as an MVP toward that goal. Facebook has developed speaker tech in the arm bands that delivers useful audio through these sunglasses, and camera tech that is beautifully miniaturised into the corner of the frame. These sunglasses aren’t an end goal in any way, but in MVP style this would seem like a nice product to put out into the world based on the research progress to date.

So here we are, arriving at the launch of a spy camera in a pair of sunglasses styled after one of the most popular fashion brands in all of modern history.

And suddenly every guy walking down the street in a pair of Wayfarers looks like a potential creeper.

Facebook says doing anything to cover up the tiny little light that indicates recording is taking place is a breach of the Terms Of Service. Because that’s ever stopped anyone from doing anything untoward ever before. And, being a physical product and not some part of its online service, how do you ‘report’ someone for breach of TOS in this case?

Nothing has really changed since Google Glass flopped like a wet fish onto nerdy faces eight years ago. And these are all the worse for being intentionally inconspicuous. When Snap released camera sunnies it made a point of making them bright yellow with a big black dot of a camera in the corner because it wanted it to be very clear what was happening.

My biggest question mark of all is for Luxottica, owner of Ray-Ban. What was it thinking?? This feels like it has the potential to damage its brand by tarnishing everyone wearing them in public. How many times will it take being asked if that is a camera version will it take for some people to stop wearing them?

Another curly thought is whether Ray-Ban could have launched these things without Facebook, given there’s no direct integration to the platform? And would we be worrying less about privacy if Facebook’s name was nowhere near this?

A final lesson may be in store for Luxottica down the road, too. Almost anyone who has partnered with Facebook seems to discover that Facebook’s interests wax and wane quickly. What may have been embraced as an exciting partnership this year could quickly be replaced by the 100% Facebook AR sunglasses in 2024, with Ray-Ban left wondering why it hurt its image for an MVP stepping stone when it didn’t get invited to the real party later on.

I guess you have to be careful how you define that V in MVP. Viable can mean very different things to different people.


Oh, and these aren't 'smart', OK?

Please stop calling these ‘smart’. Or using ‘smart’ for just anything that happens to have technology in it. Please. The name ‘smartphone’ made sense when they came along because they really did set a whole new standard compared to very dumb phones. But now? ‘Smart’ means AI and ML. Right? ‘Smart’ should mean the device is doing things without user intervention.


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