Snap Inc. deliberately designed their camera-equipped Spectacles as sunglasses, but early adopters are already going rogue.
Fans who have been able to nab a pair of the camera-equipped glasses, which are the first hardware product from Snapchat’s parent company, have been paying third-party companies to replace the tinted Spectacles lenses with clear, prescription lens.
The move is at once an endorsement of the device as well as a somewhat peculiar situation for Snap. By positioning them as playful sunglasses that can capture and create content to be shared on Snapchat, the thinking was that they’d be used somewhat like a GoPro to document outdoor adventures. They’d also steer far clear of the woes that ultimately doomed Google Glass — among them privacy concerns that people might secretly record others indoors, not to mention a somewhat geeky aesthetic and a steep $1,500 price tag.
Rochester Optical, LensCrafters, Glasses USA and Lensabl are a few of the companies offering to retrofit customer frames with alternate lenses.
Lensabl charges $77 for users to switch them out. Company founders Mike Rahimzadeh and Andy Bilinsky consider Spectacles “extremely relevant to pop culture” and predict that more people will soon be wearing Spectacles, although Bilinsky added that it was a “bold move, from an aesthetic perspective,” to make them a wearer’s daily glasses.
The black frames have a circular camera on one side and an indicator light on the other to alert others when the wearer is recording video. The video, recorded in a circular format, can then be uploaded and shared through Snapchat.
“The way to make this widespread has to be more than a cool techie product or wearable,” Bilinsky said. “Aesthetically, Snapchat has nailed it with very cool frames that are comparable to the big-name, high-fashion brands. Google Glass was too techie the way it was marketed and promoted.”
Digital media consultant Greg Baroth, who regularly wears prescription eyewear, switched over his Spectacles to prescription lenses. He bought a number of them on Craigslist to give to clients. (The $130 devices are already going for hundreds, or even thousands, on eBay.) The Los Angeles-based Baroth, who creates content for brands, start-ups and celebrities, said that they are convenient for “filming things that a phone would otherwise just get in the way of.”
“I like them but the iPhone 7 Plus’ camera is so good that unless you are doing an activity that you absolutely can’t use your hands for, I’d almost rather just use my iPhone,” he said. Recently, for example, he gave a pair to DJ Steve Aoki to use while DJing. And in San Francisco, tech geeks have been spotted wearing them out a parties, which are, ostensibly, at night and indoors.
For the past month, Snap has been slowly selling limited quantities of Spectacles to customers through vending machines and pop-up stores in surprise locations.
Although some have speculated that Snap might soon offer a wider release by selling them online, a spokeswoman for the company said this was inaccurate and would not offer additional details on when, or if, more would become available.
“Snap is employing a gradual, viral, grassroots approach to both seed Spectacles in the minds of its target audience while also simultaneously getting an early read on issues like privacy,” said Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder when the devices were revealed. “A slower rollout gives the device more time to establish an identity, which Snap will shepherd carefully.”
A Snapchat spokeswoman said that while the company is aware of customer efforts to replace the sunglasses with clear lenses, it had no plans to offer this option in-house.