Snapchat — err, Snap, Inc. — surprised everybody last week by deploying their adorable, Minion-inspired vending machine in Venice for 24 hours to sell the much-anticipated Spectacles, Snap’s first foray into hardware products. We’ve been hearing rumors and reports on the Spectacles and how they work for months now, but this was the first chance that a lucky few were able to snag a pair and take them for a test drive.
We teamed up with Tiffany Cohen, a model over at TWM Agency, who had a chance to play with the Spectacles for an hour or so. Here’s her take on the look, feel, and future of the Spectacles.
Overall, the Spectacles were a resounding win. “They were super cool — comfortable, they looked good, and honestly, when you look at them, you don’t really even notice the camera at first,” Cohen said. They’re astoundingly simple, inspiringly whimsical, and designed with style. Overall, Snap, Inc. scored a major win with the Spectacles.
Look & Feel
One of Snap’s biggest successes here is the design of the Spectacles. They’re styled loosely after the iconic 54mm Ray-Ban Wayfarer, but with a healthy dose of curved lines and whimsical corners. On each outer corner, above the lenses, lie two yellow circles — one houses the camera and the other houses the LED recording indicator light. Snap added another design win with the light, as well: instead of the red light most of us associate with video recording, they incorporated a circular, swirling pattern of LEDs that’s both informative and playful.
On the face, the Spectacles don’t feel awkward. “They feel a little bulky, but they feel comfortable,” Cohen said of the fit of the glasses. “When you hold them they have some weight to them; they feel like quality sunglasses.”
In terms of usability, the Spectacles are stunningly intuitive. The only control on the glasses is the record button, situated on the top corner opposite the camera. Click that button once and the swirling LED record light comes on, letting both the user and those around them know they’re filming. The LED light starts blinking to let the user know the video is about to end, after which the video goes straight to the “Memories” section of the Snapchat app, where the user can mark it up with doodles and emojis before posting.
Snap paired the release of the sunglasses with the release of an ingenious new video format: circular video. When exported to another device like a tablet or computer, the video plays as a simple, circular-framed video. But when viewed on a phone through the Snapchat app, circular video lets the viewer rotate the phone and have the video follow suit, giving a simulated AR-esque experience:
But the innovations of the Spectacles don’t stop there. It’s not just the format of the video that’s changed, but the fundamental perspective of the viewer.
“The camera is right there with your eyes, so when you turn your head to look around, the camera moves with you,” Cohen said. “It’s a very different feel for taking video — more immersive.” The immediate, point-of-view nature of the video encourages a more spontaneous approach to taking video, and because the videos automatically save to Memories, which are private by default, almost no thought goes into recording or posting the videos. It makes the process of Snapping even more effortless than it was before — which is a good thing for Snapchat.
What This Means for Snap, Inc.
Inevitably, the Spectacles will draw comparisons to Google Glass, and all manner of commentators are already making bets on whether Spectacles will be a long-term success or fall into the trap of the “glasshole.”
On that question, we think there’s no contest: the Snap Spectacles win hands-down. They’re easy to use, they’re fun, and perhaps most importantly, they look good. Snap figured out exactly what the Spectacles would give to users and they designed the glasses to do that one thing excellently. We think the Spectacles are a win overall and that there’s little danger of them falling into the trap that Google Glass did.
But ultimately, it’s not a fair comparison. Google Glass was a genuine attempt at a wearable that would change people’s interactions with technology in the same way that mobile phones did, and Google took the project as seriously as it sounded. Spectacles are a different beast entirely.
In fact, the Spectacles are hardly even a “product release” in the traditional sense, and their distribution model makes that clear. The Venice vending machine dispensed less than 1,000 glasses overall, and Snap didn’t send a single pair to the major tech review sites. None of this portrays an attempt to create a revenue-generating product.
Instead, the Spectacles are an attempt to break the mold of how we think about the Snap brand, and they’re a brilliantly successful one at that. With reports of an IPO in the works for Snap that might value the company in the $25 to $35 billion range, the Spectacles are almost a coming out party for Snap, Inc.; a celebration of what the company could soon become.
In his 2014 keynote address at the AXS Partner Summit, then-Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel explained why the “selfie” was significant, and implicitly, what made Snapchat so effective:
“Our old conception of the world separated into an online and an offline space is no longer relevant. Traditional social media required that we live experiences in the offline world, record those experiences, and then post them online to recreate the experience and talk about it.
The selfie makes sense as the fundamental unit of communication on Snapchat because it marks the transition between digital media as self-expression and digital media as communication.”
That was a visionary statement then, and it’s just as insightful now — and the Spectacles are a brilliant step forward in the evolution of “digital media as communication.” The Spectacles make recording, saving, and sharing first-person video as easy as clicking a button on a pair of sunglasses that you’re already wearing. They remove virtually every barrier to capturing experiences and sharing them with family, friends, or just saving them to view later.
The Spectacles aren’t a bona fide product launch for Snap, they’re an exploration of what the Snap brand can become and an experiment in how to erase the line between digital, recorded media and lived, in-person experience. Snap got just about everything about this release right, and other companies would do well to take note of how they did it.
With the Spectacles, Snap is exploring their options and setting the stage for what the company can become. If the first act is any indication, we’re in for one hell of a show.