This week sees the launch of Snap Inc’s (The Artist Formerly Known As Snapchat) brand new AR eyewear line: Spectacles. Launched in the US, and costing $130 a pair, I expect this will be on a lot of American teen girls’ Christmas lists. But doting moms and pas will have to be snappy (sorry!)… Spectacles are available exclusively via Snapbot vending machines, which look like this:
Hunting down a Snapbot isn’t easy, either. They show up for only a day or so in certain US cities. You can try and track one down here, but for us lowly Brits, we are going to have some time to wait. And if you’re not sure which of the three colours to choose (black, coral or teal), well, never fear! The bot lets you try on different pairs, virtually. Once you’ve chosen, you select your colour on the screen, and insert your credit/debit card. Bam. You are now the lucky new owner of Spectacles.
If that’s not a publicity stunt to end all publicity stunts, I don’t know what is!
Snapchat glasses, in some respects, are a bit like a fun version of Google Glass, at a fraction of the cost. The idea is that you’d use them to capture your adventures while on the go. It’s like a GoPro but for your face.
The spectacles can record video snippets that automatically save to your Snapchat Memories. Things like snaps, stories, and locked content. Spectacles can record 10-second video clips that upload via an iPhone or Android phone, paired through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The Snapchat sunglasses feature a camera with a 115-degree lens, with the purpose of mimicking how humans see.
Of course, you’re going to need a nice, shiny, modern smartphone with which to pair your new Specs. Spectacles are currently compatible with iPhone 5 and later models running iOS 8 or above, as well as Android devices running version 4.3 and above, with Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi Direct. The iPhone SE is the one that provides the best experience.
Snapchat has really ramped up its presence on the social app scene over the last couple of years. From its murky reputation at the start… and we’ll say as little about that as possible… it has developed into one of the most widely used social apps around today. Snapchat’s daily active users have soared from 59 million to 150 million over the last year or so. With that reach, especially among millennials (about 70% of its user base), Snapchat has fast become a marketer’s dream come true, with brands queuing up to host content on the app.
Snapchat Spectacles and World Lenses: Filters, Ahoy!
One of the main features of Snapchat which has made it so popular is its filters. After all, who doesn’t love the AR novelty of transforming themselves into a cartoon dog, or a fairy princess in a flowery tiara and soft filtered lighting? Don’t answer that.
Spectacles go one step further on those much-loved filters. The launch of World Lenses on the iOS app has been met with much wonder and enthusiasm. AR technology in its simplest form, World Lenses overlay weird, trippy imagery and animations over top of anything you point your phone camera at. Just check out this example from NY tech whizz, Sam Scheffer:
— Sam Sheffer (@samsheffer) November 8, 2016
Whilst World Lenses are exciting smartphone Snapchat users everywhere, they are actually specifically designed for Spectacles. In fact, the same update that brings World Lenses to the app also incorporates a new settings page for pairing your app with your Spectacles. Not that you actually have a pair yet. Hmph.
So Are They Any Good?
Snapchat Spectacles also look like wacky toys instead of serious tech devices, but I guess that’s the whole point. ‘The kids’ (and hipsters, of course) will want to be seen wearing them, which, overall may make them more socially acceptable. Its case, which doubles as a charging dock, is another clever idea, and one we can expect to see in upcoming generations of smartphones, too. It certainly beats carrying around your charger, and aside from the other many crowd-pleasing benefits, the decision to opt for a charging dock also puts the Snapchat Spectacles ahead of Google Glass’s basic USB charging cable.
Instead of featuring a wide variety of mediocre apps, Spectacles only does one thing: take first-person Snaps. Most importantly, the device alerts bystanders by lighting up while capturing content, eliminating the creepiness factor of Google Glass.
Why Did Google Glass Fail, and Why Will Snapchat Spectacles Succeed?
To see if Snapchat Spectacles can succeed, we should remember why Google Glass failed. First, the “Explorer” version of Glass cost a whopping $1,500, second, the device looked awkward. No one really wanted to be seen wearing them.
Google also didn’t realize that people didn’t like Glass “Explorers” wandering into public areas and staring at them. Since there was no visible indicator of whether photos and videos were being captured, businesses banned Glass users from their establishments. Google issued etiquette guidelines for Glass to counter the backlash, but the device was so widely mocked that it was finally discontinued last year.
What About Apple, Then? Are They Doing AR?
Whilst we are on the subject of wearable eyewear, let’s just a quick look at Apple. They are rumoured to be developing Apple glasses, an interesting move for them as the Apple Watch is still the market leader.
The Apple wearable eyewear would probably sport a wireless connection to the iPhone, and it could display images into “the wearer’s field of vision” and finally break into the world of Augmented Reality.
AR is an emerging market, and so it’s little surprise that Apple is jumping on this fast-developing bandwagon. We can expect to see Apple’s offering incorporated into every smartphone camera in the next 5 years or so.
2016: The Year AR Was Really Born
Whilst Google perhaps brought out Glass a bit too soon, and any top secret developments elsewhere in Silicon Valley have yet to be leaked, AR is having its baby shower.
2016 saw the ultimate moment in augmented reality hitting the mainstream with the launch of Pokemon Go earlier in the year, with success that took even its own makers by surprise. A global phenomenon, Pokemon Go was a massive milestone in bringing AR to us all, and there is certainly the potential for Spectacles to pick up the baton.
Augmented Reality is coming, and it could be very awesome. Let’s just hope it’s not as much of a mind melt as this: