This is definitely a bold move by Snap, as many have failed to bring high tech glasses to market. But it is one that could prove to become a lucrative business opportunity for them. This is especially true as the launch comes on the eve of a potential Initial Public Offering (IPO) and on the heels of raising $1.8 billion during a Series F fundraising round.
What makes the introduction of Spectacles unique is that it hints toward a larger vision. Since its inception, Snapchat has rapidly evolved into a platform where millions of people are capturing photos and videos every day. These glasses are the culmination of that evolution marking a new way to share those moments.
On a technical level, Spectacles’ major hardware innovation centers around the glasses that include an embedded camera with a ring of LED lights which activates when recording. All the components are packed into a slim pair of sunglasses. However, their biggest unveiling involved what is being described as circular video.
According to their website, “Spectacles connect directly to Snapchat via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and transfer your Memories directly into the app in our brand new circular video format. Circular video plays full screen on any device, in any orientation, and captures the human perspective with a 115 degree field of view.”
In addition to circular video, the key reason Spectacles is primed for success is it the bare minimum of what high tech glasses are. Updated version have the potential to turn into AR specs largely due Snapchat’s software and their uniquely fun style.
Snap’s Spectacles come in 3 different colors and radiates Hollywood vibes. It’s all about marketability. High tech glasses have to look good, hence the prior failures of others like Google who have attempted to develop similar items. Not only do Spectacles look sexy, they only cost $129 making them perfect to hand out in large quantities.
Imagine Snapchat gifting these out like Cardboards VR headsest at events like Coachella, the Sundance Music Festival, or football games. With enough people on-board, sharing images and videos in a circular format would become a new standard. The introduction of Spectacles puts the idea of circular video at the forefront of the discussion. That’s the game-changer.
This runs parallel to 360-degree cameras, which typically record fisheye views especially at the consumer level. Giant hardware manufacturers like Samsung and GoPro are pushing 360-degree content by creating peripherals often tied to smartphones. When looking at mass-adoption, the mobile cell phone industry lays the foundation of virtual reality and augmented reality devices.
In relation to AR, Snapchat’s rise is mostly due to original video content exclusively created on cell phones. Already users of Snapchat are reportedly viewing at least 10 billion videos per day. Snapchat’s stance on short form vertical video thrust them into the public eye by setting a standard format for video sharing on a cell phone.
With circular video, Snapchat is transitioning from what is capable on a phone to what can be integrated seamlessly in a pair of glasses. The whole point is to move the needle forward by potentially replacing the cell phone.
For now, Snap calls themselves a camera company, but in truth they are an augmented reality camera company.
In the past, Snapchat based their AR functionalities around the physical RGB cameras in every smartphone. Their most prevalent feature they introduced was called “Lenses” or “Filters” which produced animated overlays tracked from a person’s face. Simply through the use of a custom algorithm, the Snapchat engineers could provide advertisers with a new way to market their products in a fun and exciting fashion with augmented reality.
This facial recognition software primarily manifested when Snapchat acquired Looksery, which released similar features on their own application earlier. It is a rough foundation for augmented reality, but it is one that has already been capitalized on.
Not only have these “Lenses” and “Filters” made Snapchat money, the innovative approach to marketing accounts for millions of impressions. One of the most well-know examples is Snapchat’s Gatorade Super Bowl experience which hit beyond 165 million video views in a short period of time.
Snapchat’s AR ambitions pre-date Looksery though; as they acquired another Southern California based company known as Vergence Labs for $15 million in 2014. If Snapchat is going to influence the wearable technology industry through video sharing, purchasing an eyewear company was an obvious choice as it provides a 1st-hand perspective of their users.
Not to mention, Snapchat’s CEO Evan Spiegel was close friends with one of the founders of Vergence Labs, Jonathan Rodriguez, in college. It became a match that would skyrocket Snapchat into the public consciousness eventually resulting in Spectacles.
Vergence Lab’s vision provides insight into what the Snapchat Spectacles have become and where they are going to go. Both primarily base themselves on cell phone technology, as wireless transmissions send the videos and images from the glasses to a smartphone. The main difference though seems to be related to the lack of changeable tint on the lenses and the inclusion of a circular video format.
While Vergence Labs toyed with augmented reality helmets and sunglasses like the one shown below, they focused on releasing a stripped down version that only included the camera to record videos and photos. That content could be shared on a platform called YouGen.TV, which was released with their Epiphany Eyewear crowd-funding campaign. It laid down a foundation that was fashionable and easily marketable while vocalizing that the system could eventually turn into an augmented reality platform.
Which is where Snapchat steps in. They can provide the software for AR, which has been increasingly beefed-up through the acquisition of Looksery; and also Seene (which was secretly acquired in 2016 and whose features have yet to be integrated into Snapchat for now).
With newly added talent, Snapchat’s engineering teams are beginning to flex their ability to integrate AR features solely from what is embedded inside a smartphone. All they have to do now is move from the phone to eyewear.
The recently announced Spectacles boils down what augmented reality is all about – which is depicting everyday moments in a creatively enhanced visual way. It is a shift in perspective, which starts from combining vertical and horizontal video into a circular one with augmentation down the line.
At the same time, virtual reality headsets have shown that video can be spherical in 360-degrees on a cellphone, which is also displayed in an easily accessible fashion. Snapchat is fine-tuning that idea, however, by making user-generated content centered around a smartphone flatter and less complicated.
Simply by purchasing a $129 accessory, circular video becomes instantly shareable and digested even faster when pair with high tech glasses. This simple yet effective solution opens-up a whole new world on what user-generated/marketable content looks like. This potential swells when combined with Snapchat’s AR software, and it has barely been integrated into the Spectacles’ infrastructure.
At the very least, this approach to circular video is cheaper and more consumable than buying a 360-degree camera which has been all the rage in 2015 and 2016.
In regards to augmented reality, circular video is the 1st step toward AR purely founded on a standalone pair of glasses. Because it is a unique way to share moments in time that can be viewed on any device no matter the orientation, Snapchat’s circular video unleashes wearable technology eyewear into the world of Hollywood. This is not Silicon Valley’s Google Glass. No, this is fashionable tech ready to be marketed to the entertainment industry.
By introducing glasses and a circular video platform, Snapchat’s Spectacles allow the company to pursue augmented reality from a route that no other firm has. If people gravitate toward Spectacles, then all Snap has to do is upgrade the tech.
This is in comparison to those who have to introduce a more complex vision of AR often focused on the hardware capabilities rather than the software. Snap on the other hand makes the most of what the technology’s current state is, rather than attempting to uproot the manufacturing of eyewear technology by including unnecessarily sophisticated features. They have primed their software on rudimentary cell phones and are now ready to look toward bringing them to AR glasses.
As long as processor, battery, network connectivity and lens technology continue to consolidate into smaller and smaller bits of hardware, Snap’s engineers should have no problem transitioning their augmented reality software to eyewear.
In the meantime, Spectacles provides a platform to nudge high tech glasses into the mainstream. If successful, an augmented reality standalone device is surely a next step for Snap. At only $129, these glasses will likely be in high demand. People online are already salivating for them. $129 is super cheap, comparatively speaking to Google Glasses’ failed markup tag of $1500 just to include an AR display.
The shareable circular video is where it’s at for Snap. But if their userbase wants more AR capabilities extending from the glasses, Snap certainly has the capabilities to do so. Few other companies vying for AR supremacy already have the active engagement of their audience, which why Snap is the furthest along in bringing augmented reality to the masses.
But in order for Snap (and Snap’s investors) to continue down the path to AR dominance, the audience has to react and buy up their Spectacles so fast that the world has to take notice. If not, we might as well get used to playing with AR filters and augmented reality games on our phones until someone else tries it all again.