Snapchat will release its first wearable product this fall. It’s called Spectacles, and it’s a $130 pair of glasses that, with a tap to the side of the frame, will record 10 seconds of whatever you're seeing. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the glasses film 115-degrees wide to mimic human perception, and record a round image that creates videos outside the bounds of standard rectangular cropping.
The Spectacles come in thick frames and bright colors, and they'll be sold by Snap Inc.—the new name of the company. Snap's plans are more grandiose than the Snapchat app, and involve extending Snapchat's ethos into the sphere of hardware. As CEO Evan Spiegel explains in the WSJ:
Spiegel refers to it as a toy, to be worn for kicks at a barbecue or an outdoor concert—Spectacles video syncs wirelessly to a smartphone, making it easily shareable. "We’re going to take a slow approach to rolling them out," says Spiegel. "It’s about us figuring out if it fits into people’s lives and seeing how they like it."
Why make this product, with its attendant risks, and why now? "Because it’s fun," he says with another laugh.
Fun is certainly not the only reason Snap is getting into wearables. But fun is why they’ll be a hit, at least compared to other techie glasses like Glass. Rather than attempting to disguise the wearable as a normal pair of glasses, or position it as a serious product, the company is embracing the sensational side of the concept. It's an approach that sounds a lot like its app: if there’s one company that’s capable of making you look like an idiot in public for fun—making faces at your own camera and totally not caring that you do—it’s Snap.
Just look at those thick frames, presented in an electric robin’s egg blue. They’re self-assured. Overt. Capable of holding a battery, sure. And not trying to hide the two big cameras in the corners, each highlighted by an LED ring, which is most certainly for lowlight shooting.
It’s a design as confident as any millennial on Snapchat, which goes to show that, even though the product is really just a hands-free camera rather than some advanced augmented reality system, Snapchat isn’t repeating the mistakes of the ill-fated Google Glass—or even the looming limitations of Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets or Microsoft’s Hololens. Google Glass was garish and cyborgian (We can say that now, right? Can we finally all agree?). But it tried so hard not to be. Sure, it put a computer over your ear, but the entire frame of the first model was built as a wireframe, in the hopes that it would disappear on your face. Instead, Glass became a symbol of both our tech-fueled distraction and the invasiveness of the digital age. Not a good look!
But the truth is, wearable cameras freak people out. I learned that firsthand when I wore the Momento camera—which automatically took photos with very similar shoot-on-demand functionality to Spectacles—for a month on my shirt when my son was born. Some of the photos were amazing, irreplaceable, first-person moments I would have never photographed with a real camera. Yet, time and time again, friends and family would visit, take a look at the discrete camera clipped to my shirt, and tense up. They felt spied on, as if they were visiting a surveillance state. It’s no wonder that the most ubiquitous wearable camera today is probably the one used by police forces.
And so enters Snap, with a new type of wearable glasses. They’re post-hipster-dorky-cool, clunky and brash, and especially given that they’ll be available only in a slow rollout while Snap tests the market, sure to sell out for the holiday season. The question to me, at this point, isn’t whether Spectacles will be an instant hit—I obviously believe they will be—but where they go from here in terms of technology and UX. Because if there’s one company with the technology and mindshare to literally change the way young people see the world, it’s Snap. Hopefully they don’t block too much of it out in the process.
[All Images: via Spectacles]