Snap Bets Its Future on a Stylish New Pair of Spectacles

August 14, 2019 0 By NIKESHOE

The future belongs to those who prepare for it today. For Snap, the maker of the ephemeral messaging app Snapchat, it's preparing by making a new pair of sunglasses: Spectacles 3.

This isn’t Snap’s first rodeo. The company debuted the first version of Spectacles in 2016. Back then, they came in "fun" colors like bright teal and were sold out of pop-up vending machines. People went wild for them, until they didn't; Snap reportedly lost $40 million on unsold inventory. Two years of reengineering led to the second iteration: better hardware, and also better design. No more candy colors, no silly yellow rings around the camera lens. Then it rolled out a pair of high-design Spectacles, all black, that looked more like something you’d find at Net-a-Porter than Chuck E. Cheese.

With Spectacles 3, Snap continues this evolution. The new shades have steel frames and classic details, with upgraded tech too: two HD cameras for capturing footage with depth and dimension. Snap calls the premiere a “limited edition launch.” It wants the product to have a “premium” feel to match its $380 price tag. And Snap isn’t planning to sell a whole bunch of them, according to a spokesperson for the company.

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Instead, Snap is playing the long game. Right now, Snap lives on the phone. But in the future, the phone might give way to another platform. Snap is betting that it will be eyewear—and in continuing to make its Spectacles, it's making sure it has a place in that future.

Snap Off

In the eight years since Snapchat was born, it’s gone through more than a few costume changes. First it was the app for sending nudes. Then it was more like WhatsApp, but with photos. Then it was for broadcasting and consuming the news. It’s also been for games, for music, and for scripted entertainment. For following the secret lives of celebrities, or for following your friends’ Bitmojis around a map. For experimenting with augmented reality. For turning yourself into a cartoon.

For the most part, Snapchat's users have been along for the ride, joining in on the experimentation at every turn. It enjoyed enough user loyalty to take the company public in 2017.

But since then, the hype seems to have cooled. Don’t be fooled—Snapchat is still wildly popular. In July, Snap's quarterly earnings report cited 13 million new users, many of them teenagers. (Through it all, the desire to send nudes persists.) But Snap knows it can’t count on the app forever, or even the phone. If it wants to stick around as a company, it needs to future-proof. Hence, sunglasses.

Snap wants the third-gen Spectacles to be more than just a hands-free camera. You still use them that way, pressing a button to record up to 60 seconds of footage that uploads, automatically, into your Snapchat Memories. You can still upload that footage to your Snap Story—though now, thanks to that second HD camera, you can add 3D effects. A demonstration from Snap showed effects like confetti exploding in a scene, or floating hearts that burst when they bump into someone. Every pair of Spectacles 3 will ship with a brand-new Snap 3D Viewer, a Google Cardboard knockoff made for experiencing this 3D content. You slide your phone into the viewer and can watch compatible content as if you were staring through someone else's glasses. (POV porn producers are drooling over the possibilities right now.)

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The fact that Snap is nudging its glasses toward virtual and augmented reality is unsurprising. AR has always been Snap's superpower (the company has an entire division devoted to it), and making a pair of truly wearable AR glasses has been a dream of the tech industry for longer than Evan Spiegel has been around. By continuously refining its shades, Snap is learning how to make something that people will actually put on their faces, with technology that can for now be used to create AR content and in the future can perhaps be used to view it.

It's hard to imagine that will be enough to get people to buy the new Spectacles. For the person wearing them, Spectacles 3.0 will feel a lot like the two versions that preceded it—except, of course, a whole lot nicer looking. These are the first pair of Spectacles that look like a work of fashion design. If aesthetics were holding you back from buying Spectacles before, the new model might be your tipping point. But those who are waiting for the sunglasses to do something else will have to keep waiting.

For Snap, though, this is about more than just encouraging people to create more content that, with any luck, ends up back on Snapchat. The company knows these won't be a megahit, and a spokesperson says that's OK. This is, after all, about “learning.” Now Snap just needs to learn enough to save its future self.