Snap is making a new spectacle of its smart eyewear effort, with a style makeover for the connected sunglasses arriving just in time for New York Fashion Week.
Unveiled today, the new, more fashion-forward version of Snap’s Spectacles remain largely the same on the inside. The changes here are indeed skin deep. There’s no hint of the previous version’s keyhole bridge, the pronounced camera lens and garish indicator at the corners, the somewhat flimsy arms and cartoonish round, mirrored lenses.
“We wanted people to feel comfortable wearing technology,” said Snap’s Lauryn Morris, who leads the company’s design team. “Putting something on your face is a really big ask, so we wanted to make it more fun and playful.”
Now those broad strokes of novelty, and perhaps whimsy, have segued into something more serious — something sexier and, Snap hopes, more stylish. The company created two new models: a wayfarer style dubbed “Nico” and an oversize feminine design called “Veronica,” whose looks could have taken some vintage cues from some old, weathered Polaroids of Jackie O.
If last spring’s Version 2 was Snap’s stab at making the device brainier — with updates addressing criticisms of the hardware and software — this new take is all about dressing it up.
“It’s really sort of taking things step by step, elevating things as we go…so people can understand how technology can fit into their lives and not stand out,” Morris said. The ethos: “Create something that resonates with their personal style.”
Indeed, both models skew classic sunglasses, not techie face gadget. The camera blends into the corner of the frame, offering up the technology in a subtler way than this generation’s predecessors. No yellow circles or other multicolors, and no hardware jutting out garishly. Even better, Veronica features a refined gradient, while Nico sports polarized lenses. When it comes to matters of style and comfort, such details matter.
They’re also priced like regular sunglasses, though perhaps a premium set. Nico and Veronica cost $199 and will land on Snap’s web site today, with select Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom locations carrying them later this fall.
Upon receipt, customers can expect the same improved experience of the previous Version 2. The update addressed the first unit’s recurring complaints, with transfer speed that’s four times faster, a narrower field of view — which “mimics the human eye,” Morris said — but fends off warped visuals around the sides, HD video quality, still photo capture, eyeglass prescription compatibility and water resistance.
As for battery, the glasses last for at least a day, possibly two, depending on usage. Enough for a weekend away, according to Morris. It can capture 70 videos on a single charge. It’s also very simple to operate. A long-press snaps a pic, while a quick tap can record 10 seconds of video. Additional taps add more time, up to 30 seconds. For the prolific Snapchat videographer, the built-in storage is roomy enough to hold 150 vids.
The camera sits in the right corner, while an indicator shines in the left corner. The light looks like a comet soaring in a circle to alert bystanders that the camera is on.
That’s no small matter. The tech industry still remembers the backlash against Google’s Project Glass. The indicator-less gadget triggered an outcry from a public that was not amused about being surreptitiously recorded.
Today’s heightened concerns over privacy make that issue paramount. Coincidentally, Snap is sending its latest eyewear out into the world just as Google, Facebook and Twitter appear before Congress — again — to talk security and privacy ahead of the mid-term elections.
Snapchat’s ephemeral nature helps it bypass some of that scrutiny. But it’s in a hot seat of a different sort.
The company badly needs Spectacles to become a hit. Despite beating Wall Street’s expectations in the second quarter of this year, the 5-million-person downturn in daily active users spooked investors, sending shares tumbling then bouncing around, as analysts tried to make sense of the results and what to expect next.
If people accept the new Spectacles as an attractive piece of everyday eyewear, one that ensures a Snapchat camera is always at the ready, it may naturally spur more usage and attract interest. It’s a tall order, considering Version 1 sold just 220,000 units or so. But that’s precisely what the company needs.
Snap is giving the effort its all, seeding the new designs with a mix of fashion industry insiders, friends and a few loyal users.
“We hope to see these around fashion week,” Morris said. The reason is obvious. If Spectacles makes some cameos at the shows, it would shine a spotlight on the product — akin to Diane von Furstenberg’s early adoption in 2014 of Google’s face gadget. Although that wasn’t enough to save Glass, the attention drew plenty of curiosity and interest.
So, like wearables of various stripes, a tech’s fate once again appears to be in fashion’s hands.