There are two important new things to know about Snapchat. First, it’s just Snap now. That’s easy enough. The second may be a little bit harder to process: The ephemeral chat mavens will sell video-grabbing sunglasses, called Spectacles, starting this fall.
Spectacles (Specs, for short) were first reported by The Wall Street Journal, which detailed quirky features–like shooting circular video rather than rectangles–but spent appreciably less time on Spectacles’ real predecessor: Google Glass, a faceputer that promised the future, but turned out to be a colossal failure.
That may well be the fate for Specs as well. The name alone doesn’t instill confidence. But whatever reservations you might (rightly) have about wearing camera glasses, don’t mistake Specs for Glass 2.0. They’ve got a lot more going for them than that.
Making a Spectacle
Let’s start with what Specs do and how they do it. They’re sunglasses, available in three colors, that come with a small camera built into the upper left and right sides of the frames. Tap a button near the left camera, and Specs records for 10 seconds. Additional taps get you 10 more seconds each, up to 30 seconds at a time. To stop recording sooner, press and hold the same button.
The Snaps will live on your Specs until you transfer them to your smartphone, over Wi-Fi for Android and Bluetooth for iOS by default (you can also fiddle with setting if you prefer Wi-Fi transfer for your iPhone). The Specs Snaps, bless their alliterative hearts, will be saved in the Memories section of your Snapchat app.
An inward-facing light will let you know when your camera is activated, but more importantly, an outward-facing light lets people around you know that they’re being filmed. Snap says Specs should last about a day on one charge, and come with a charging case that can you about a week’s worth of juice. The whole set-up costs $130.
In broad strokes, this might sound a whole lot like Glass. Specifically, it sounds like the part of Glass that gave rise to the wicked portmanteau of Glasshole: People filming you surreptitiously behind some weird techno-utopian future-goggles. Dig into the specifics, though, and you can see Specs already avoiding many of the pitfalls that shattered Glass.
The Price Is Right
Not to be overly consumerist, but we really do have to start with the price.
When Google introduced Glass to the public, it did so with a high-adrenaline live display of skydiving and extreme sportage. A lofty concept video, meanwhile, delighted in all the ways Glass’ augmented reality would enhance even your most mundane daily tasks. All this could be yours, Google said, for just $1,500. If you signed up fast.
Glass could certainly do much more than Specs. But the pricing and scarcity did more than just turn off potential buyers. It put too much pressure on Glass to be a truly life-changing experience. Fair or not, it instantly labeled Glass wearers as part of the monied class. Glass became a symbol of the future, maybe, but a future to which most of us weren’t invited.
Specs cost less than a decent pair of Ray-Bans. In fact, they even look a little like Ray-Bans, not like blender blades reconfigured to fit on your face. They’re also not pitched at the mountain bikers and skydivers–GoPro has those guys covered–but at, well, anyone. In fact, it might be useful to think of them as a GoPro for the boring stuff. Specs aren’t trying to conjure up the future; they’re a product steeped in the present.
“The price is very aggressive, so this has me more interested in what Snap is doing than Google,” says Ben Bajarin, analyst with Creative Strategies. “Anyone who has used a GoPro to capture first person perspective video would understand why this could be interesting.”
And at $130, lots of people can afford to find out for themselves.
Telegraph the Punches
Google Glass was creepy. There’s no getting around it. Sure, they looked like something Data would wear during a 3-D chess tournament, but that wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was not knowing if and when you were being filmed. It had a small recording light, but it wasn’t visible enough to communicate whether you were being recorded or not.
Snap hasn’t entirely solved this problem, although it’s a good start that the indicator light is much more prominent here. They should also benefit from an unlikely confluence: People like Snapchat, and video is ubiquitous.
Between 2009 and 2013, the number of people who had uploaded a video to the Internet more than doubled, according to a 2013 Pew Research report. More important, though, is how rapidly the pace of video sharing has accelerated since Google introduced Glass in April of 2012.
Here’s a quick timeline since then. Snapchat added video in December 2012. Vine came out in January 2013. Instagram incorporated video of that year. Live-streaming apps Periscope and Meerkat didn’t even exist until just last year.
Video was popular in 2012, but it wasn’t everywhere. Today, it is. It’s normalized. It helps, too, that Specs are single-purpose. They’ll take 30 second of video max, that will end up on a (mostly) ephemeral messaging service. That still may cause discomfort, but not anywhere near the scale of Glass.
“I like that the product is focused more on video capture, and reliving memories, than augmented reality,” says Bajarin. “This could be a use case that is easier to grab.”
Both for the wearer, and whoever ends up in their sights.
Yes, there’s plenty that can go wrong.
People may still hate sunglasses recording as much as they did Glass. And while Specs looking like normal shades may help with their acceptance, it also makes them easier to creep with.
Snap, too, has recently shown that it doesn’t necessarily give rigorous thought to ways in which its products may be problematic. A recent Bob Marley filter, released on 4/20, doused users in blackface. The company somehow followed that up with an even more offensive “yellowface” filter that gave users slanted eyes, buck teeth, and other stereotypical features.
There’s more! Like all first-generation products, Specs look just a little bit doofy. Its 115-degree field of view, circular video is certainly different, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better. Sunglasses you have to charge every day seems like a drag. The Snapchat app faces increasing, intense competition from the likes of Instagram, which has taken to ripping its best features off wholesale. We still don’t know what kind of video quality we’re dealing with, or if taking a video with your face and then transferring it to your smartphone is one step too many for an app and experience built in promises of spontaneity and ephemerality.
But if Specs do fail, they’ll at least do so on their own terms. The specter of Glass still haunts faceputers, but Snap has done everything it could to exorcise that rep. No one outside Snap knows yet if Specs are good–but at least they’ve got a shot at being fun.