Snapchat’s trying to succeed where Google failed.
But experts are skeptical that the disappearing messaging platform, which got its footing as a teenage sexting app, will be able to transcend its digital base to break into the world of fashion with new techie sunglasses dubbed Spectacles.
“Snapchat’s foray into consumer electronics is potentially interesting, but faces serious obstacles,” said Evan Neufeld, vice president of intelligence at research firm L2. “Offering consumers a way to create Snaps that are more reflective of their actual field of vision will likely resonate well with hardcore Snapchat users, as will the $130 price tag. But the face-based wearable computing category is emergent at best, and is noted more for its failures, such as Google Glass, than successes.”
To remedy that, Neufeld said Snap is correct to position the device as a “toy,” the word used by founder Evan Spiegel.
Signifying the seriousness of its evolution, the firm also changed its name to Snap Inc.
Spectacles sport a video camera that records “Memories” that can later be added to Snapchat using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The videos are recorded in a circular format that is designed to mimic the human perspective.
Snap’s sunglasses come in three different colors and a limited number will be available this fall (the details, as per Snap’s tradition, are secretive). “Even in the best-case scenario, we’re probably several versions away from a device that will have a meaningful impact both on Snap Inc.’s consumers as well as their bottom line,” Neufeld said.
This marks Snap’s first move into hardware and invites comparisons to Google Glass, which, despite considerable hype and tentative support from the fashion world — including Vogue photo shoots and an appearance on the Diane von Furstenberg runway — is widely considered to have been a failure.
One important distinction, said Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder, is that Spectacles aren’t “smart” glasses, but rather are specifically a video recording device. “The funny thing is that one of the things that undid Google Glass is a privacy concern,” he said. “Snap is taking that on full force; they are going straight at it and saying, ‘This is literally what we do, is take photos for you.'”
He also noted that Spectacles are specifically sunglasses, rather than clear eyeglasses, which encourages more of an outdoor, GoPro-style usage. Spectacles also include indicator lights when the device is recording. “It will be interesting to see how culture has shifted in the past couple of years” since the controversy of Google Glass, Gownder said.
Although the emphasis coming from Snap is on “fun,” social media platforms see video as big business. Facebook and Instagram, Twitter, Snap and more have been experimenting and expanding both in ways of capturing and sharing video and in methods of viewing. Snap in 2013 famously rebuffed a $3 billion advance from Facebook, which bought Oculus Rift in 2014 for $2 billion.
According to research from eMarketer, Snap’s ad dollars are expected to reach $935 million next year, up from about $366 million this year.
The retail implications for Spectacles still are unclear. “As an industry, we are still in the very early stages of defining how to infuse technology into eyewear and what that means for the consumer,” said Leslie Muller, who is co-lead of VSP Global’s innovation lab and worked on the Google Glass project. “Right now, Snap Inc.’s spectacles appear to be designed for entertainment but with any product in its infancy, we should expect designers to learn and evolve their offerings over time.”
Google Glass might have been a bit ahead of the times, and although it boasted a suite of functions that rival a smartphone, ultimately became notable for the “glassholes” who wore them than for groundbreaking technology. It was rumored that Warby Parker was working with Google to inject a bit of style into the substance, but that partnership never materialized. While Glass did not take off in a fashion sense, the technology has been repositioned for commercial use.
And Muller has high hopes for the expansion of eyewear functionality.
“Spectacles point toward how eyewear will become an even more valuable platform in the future,” she said. “It would make sense as technology becomes smaller and faster to move the functions as we know them from hand-held devices to eyewear platforms. Whether it be taking photos, videos, tracking your activity, monitoring your health or recording voice, eyewear will become the platform to support all of these functions together on one place.”
In a post on Snap’s blog about the shift to Snap Inc., Spiegel said that changing the name makes it easier for users to find relevant product information when they search for the company’s products. “You can search Snapchat or Spectacles for the fun stuff and leave Snap Inc. for the Wall Street crowd :),” he wrote. “We hope that this change will improve your experience with Snapchat and Spectacles, and create a structure that allows us to continue making great new products for you and your friends!”