Snapchat, the company best known for self-deleting videos, unveiled its first real-world product this weekend. Called Spectacles, they're sunglasses that record video snippets via a tiny wireless camera housed in the frame.
That might sound like a privacy apocalypse in the making, but fortunately there's no mistaking what's going on here. The glasses pretty obviously have a camera built into them; and when it's recording, people nearby can see a circle of lights around the lens.
What are Snap Spectacles?
Think Google Glass, only more stylish. And aimed clearly at Snapchat's primary audience, teens.
Snapchat boasts that its camera is "one of the smallest wireless video cameras in the world." To celebrate the product's release, Snapchat changed its name to simply Snap, Inc., as a sign that the company is about more than just video sharing. On its site, it calls itself a camera company that's "reinventing the camera."
It may be a stretch to call Spectacles a "reinvention," since you can already buy any number of camera glasses on Amazon. Nevertheless, Spectacles packages an old idea—probably dating back to Cold War spies—in a fun way, and it connects directly to the Snapchat app that's almost certainly on your kid's phone.
Spectacles will be available in three colors: teal, coral, and black. CEO Evan Spiegel, the brains behind Snapchat, studied product design at Stanford, but who knows? He might have taken suggestions from his supermodel girlfriend Miranda Kerr, who also knows something about design. Or maybe she just suggested that everyone in the ads should be naked.
What it's Like to Use Spectacles
Spectacles records a circular 115-degree field of view, which mimics the binocular vision of humans. The resulting video will fill the screen in either portrait or landscape format on your smartphone.
To turn the camera on, you tap a button in the left corner of the frame. While it's recording, other people will see the aforementioned circle of lights, but the user will be assured by an inward-facing light that the camera is recording. Spectacles records video in 10-second snippets.
The glasses connects directly to Snapchat via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and videos are stored in the Memories section of the app. Spectacles can also store video itself, so you don't need to have your phone with you at all times. The wearable device charges wirelessly in its carrying case. Snap says that Spectacles can take "a day's worth of Snaps on a single charge."
We're a Little Dubious. Okay, Very Dubious.
At this point you may be wondering why anyone would wear Spectacles when you could just capture video with a phone instead. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Spiegel explained that with the lens up by your eyes and recording in a circular format that more closely resembles the way humans see, you'll get nearer to recording sights the way you remember them.
Spiegel described to the Journal his experience of going on a vacation with Kerr to Big Sur and testing a prototype. "[W]hen I got the footage back and watched it, I could see my own memory, through my own eyes—it was unbelievable. It's one thing to see images of an experience you had, but it's another thing to have an experience of the experience. It was the closest I'd ever come to feeling like I was there again."
For now, Snap isn't taking Spectacles too seriously. Spiegel calls it a "toy," and the company is releasing it in a limited run. This may be a way of protecting himself if Spectacles meets the same fate as Google Glass. But Spectacles has the makings of a success and should fare much better. To judge from the ads, it's already a hit among people with glistening upper torsos.
But Your Kids Will Want A Pair
We're guessing your kids will want Spectacles the minute they set eyes on it—though their fascination with the device might also be somewhat shortlived. Only time will tell if it has staying power or will be a pricey fad toy that gets neglected because it's too annoying to keep charged. Also, expect to see rules that you can't wear them in schools, restaurants, and other semi-public places.
Spectacles will be available later this fall and will retail for $130.