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Will Consumers Snap Up This Hardware Gamble?

By Posted 13 October 2016

If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed that Snapchat has gone through a bit of a rebrand and is now Snap Inc.* Along with this sleek new moniker, they’ve also come up with their first hardware product – Spectacles. You’d think after the epic fail that was Google Glass, companies would have learned their lesson about wearable tech for the face area. Alas, as Snap has proved, the tech world is not quite ready to give up on tech-tastic glasses.

 

In line with the company’s foundations, Snap Inc isn’t doing anything too crazy on the wearable front. Basically, Spectacles are a set of connected sunglasses that record 10-second snippets of video – essentially they’re a hands-free version of the app. On your face. Fairly obviously, recordings are automatically linked to your Snapchat account. The glasses are looking to sell for around $130USD and should be released some time this Spring.

The company formerly known as Snapchat will be rolling the Spectacles out slowly – a limited edition run of one-size-fits all sunnies in black, teal or coral. This could be a clever marketing ploy to build up demand, but more likely Snap Inc is simply trying to cover its butt in case Spectacles crash and burn the same way as Google Glass did. And honestly, it’s hard to imagine how they could do any better.

After all, we just don’t need them. Our phones – complete with crazy powerful cameras – live perpetually in our pockets anyway and another camera feels unnecessary. Especially given the fact that our phones are able to record at a tonne of different camera angles – limited only by your imagination – while Specs are limited to eye-level recording. Another big downside of Specs is that the wearer (aka, the cameraman) is perpetually out of the shot, busily recording everyone else’s fun. Using a phone means that the cameraman can also get in on the snaption.

Whether or not Spectacles is a success is hardly the point though. By launching them (and shedding its ‘chat’ suffix), Snap has announced itself as more than an app, and put distance between its old self and the new. The brand is now referring to itself as ‘a camera company’ rather than a social network, and it’s likely that we’ll see a lot more in this vein from Snap in the future. I expect augmented reality Specs within a year or two.

The jump to hardware is very sudden for Snap, particularly given that its flagship product has such limited use. The glasses are a toy (even Snap thinks so), and jumping into hardware on the back of a rocking horse seems kind of illogical. It’s one of those ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’ situations and where there’s no market need, it seems an unnecessary risk.

Of course, Start Ups are driven by a philosophy of ‘what’s next?’ and they’re always looking to go bigger and better and fair enough; consumers want and need innovation. But innovation doesn’t necessarily mean changing who you are and I can’t help but think that in becoming a ‘camera company’, Snap’s turned it’s back on what made it special to begin with: the fact that anyone with a phone could create and share their experiences with the world. No fancy equipment required. Until now.

* I’m probably going to keep calling it Snapchat. I like it better and also, it’s a well-established habit. Changing now is way too much effort, right?

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