Thursday, June 13, 2024

My Meta Apple Memories: What Way Should I Record My Life?

Walking around Disney World for four days straight, you could hear me discussing two things nonstop: my step count and the battery life on my glasses. For most of the trip, I was wearing Meta’s Ray-Bans. To remember my trip as it was happening.

I snap a lot of photos and videos on my phone (maybe too much). I try to get away from it. Even so, I still recorded videos on my phone in 3D. I knew when I got home, I could relive my trip through those spatial video clips on an Apple Vision Pro (or a Meta Quest).

My memories are split across devices. I have a glasses-worn recording mode and a headset-based reliving mode.

Watch this: Apple and Meta Are Competing for Your Memories

Tech companies are making a bigger play for your memories now, especially Apple and Meta. There are already AI-curated Memory galleries on Apple’s Photos app, and Facebook serves up previous posts and curates montages from your past. Based on what Apple’s Vision Pro and Meta’s Quest and Ray-Ban Glasses are doing right now, expect the battle for our memories to continue on an even greater scale.

What impresses me so far is how both companies are approaching the landscape from completely different paths.

Spatial video’s immersive benefits

Spatial videos, Apple’s term for what are currently 3D video recordings, promise a world where we’ll record our most important moments with a phone (or while wearing a headset) and relive them in immersive 3D later on like recaptured slices of life. Right now, spatial videos aren’t as deeply immersive as they could be: they’re not 180 degrees and ultra-high-res like Apple’s Immersive Video format that’s slowly rolling out on Apple TV Plus in Vision Pro, and you can’t move through them like a true spatial capture. They feel like a foot in the door on something that could improve over time.

I’ve been recording most of my video moments on an iPhone 15 Pro in spatial video format since last fall, and I’ve already been noticing how fun it is to see these moments again with visuals and sound that can wrap a little more around you. It’s a little bit emotional, too.

There’s one small problem with this proposal: recording those memories still feels as intrusive as always. Meta’s found a way around that (to some degree) with its camera-equipped glasses.

Meta Ray-Ban glasses next to Apple's Vision Pro headset Meta Ray-Ban glasses next to Apple's Vision Pro headset

Meta’s Ray-Bans are small and feel great to wear — they’re truly outdoor-friendly — but they need frequent recharging. The Vision Pro doesn’t last that long on a charge, either.

Scott Stein/CNET

Meta Glasses: The Perfect Form, Imperfect Battery

I’d never capture moments of my family with a Vision Pro on my face, but I would (and have) worn Meta’s Ray-Ban glasses to capture life moments while I’m living them. The Vision Pro is a mixed-reality headset that’s big, battery-tethered and not meant for outdoor use. Meta’s smart glasses don’t do nearly as much, but they’re far smaller, lighter weight, feel nearly normal and are entirely made to live in the real world.

Everyone uses their phone as a camera, but sometimes I prefer not to keep doing that. Also, Apple’s spatial video format insists you record in landscape mode, i.e. holding the phone sideways. You can’t just hold your phone vertically. That’s rough at a place like Disney, for example.

Meta’s glasses are voice-activated and the camera is surprisingly decent. Still, shots tend to blur more easily sometimes compared to my iPhone and the wider-angle lens means shots don’t always get framed the way I want them. Plus, I can’t preview the shots on the glasses. Meta’s glasses just have speakers, microphones and a camera, but no displays.

That also means I’m less worried about living through my screen. When I shoot on a phone, I find I’m not looking at the world around me with my own eyes. Meta’s glasses encourage me to just look around, live and be in the moment.

A good example: I took Meta’s glasses with me when my kids were sledding, and I could keep my phone in my pocket. I could capture myself sledding, too. At Disney World, I could just wander around and take spontaneous shots whenever I felt the urge: voice-activated or pressing the shutter button.

It gets so much better for video capture. The glasses are limited to a minute of recording at a time, but I could record my rides on Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Tron and Rise of the Resistance without feeling like I was distracting anyone or holding up my phone. I also didn’t risk losing my phone.

I might have been distracting people. The glasses have a small white light that turns on while recording to notify others, and on dark rides, it must have been visible.

The battery life is also imperfect. Meta’s glasses run out of juice when I use them a fair amount, and then I need the glasses case to recharge. Since they’re prescription glasses, it means I need to swap out for another pair of glasses, which I need to keep with me. That meant I was without magic camera glasses for a while or even the rest of the day.

The video recordings are wonderful to watch later on, although they’re vertical and don’t look great on a big TV, but are better for social. Still, they’re a document of my life, and as I flip through my first-person ride captures and my walks around Disney, I appreciate them.

Note that Meta’s glasses don’t record 3D spatial video. 

Meta Ray-Bans with lenses looking at Apple's Vision Pro lenses Meta Ray-Bans with lenses looking at Apple's Vision Pro lenses

Somewhere between these two types of devices, a shared memory system might emerge.

Scott Stein/CNET

The future: Why not both?

There’s a clear answer here: I want camera glasses (that last all day, ideally) with spatial video capture that looks nice and big and immersive and 3D on VR headsets for later on. Meta just might do that sooner rather than later. Meta introduced spatial video support on Quest headsets, which makes them compatible with Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro video format, but it can’t all just be friendly cross-platform altruism. 

Meta’s CTO, Andrew Bosworth, told me last year that the first Ray-Ban Stories glasses were designed for 3D video capture, but the feature was removed. The second-gen Meta glasses, which have much better camera and audio quality, dropped the dual-camera hardware design completely.

Now that spatial video has become a more talked-about concept, why not bring it back? I’d love it if my spontaneous moments could play back immersively. It’s what I would assume would happen but doesn’t yet. I have to hold my phone up to get the immersive video for later or wear the glasses to make sure I stay immersed in the moment as it’s happening.

Combine them and I’ll have my favorite future way of reliving my life.

That also makes me wonder if Apple will do the same. Glasses with cameras, speakers and microphones sound right up Apple’s alley, tech-wise. AirPod glasses with iPhone cameras, perhaps. These glasses would also be another road to where AR is headed beyond Vision Pro. Much like Meta’s already laid out, a VR headset with advanced features but a bulky design and smart glasses with stripped-down features but a streamlined design could eventually meet in the middle. Meta should be doing that over the next five years, and maybe Apple could do the same, with spatial video recording being the best reason for their existence in the meantime.

Until then, I’m split between platforms and hardware. My video memories live on in my photo library, divided into two formats. Swiping between each, I can’t help but imagine what it’ll be like when I don’t have to awkwardly swap at all.


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