Snapchat’s foray into wearables has grabbed the attention of the technology world, but is it enough for commercial success?
For those who have somehow managed to avoid the furore about Snapchat, here’s the news in a nutshell. Snapchat have rebranded to Snap Inc., with the Snapchat app as a product.
Under Snap Inc., the company is also diving into wearables, with plans to release ‘Spectacles’ in time for Christmas. These are funky looking sunglasses which record up to 10 seconds of video, then Bluetooth it to the owner’s smartphone.
Undeniably, there are aspects of the Spectacles project that are exciting. Unlike Google Glass, the design is much more in line with what we’re used to, and their colour block pomotional shoot would slot in neatly to the pages of a fashion magazine.
The price point is also a win for Snap. Each pair will be around the £100 mark; around the same price as a genuine pair of designer sunglasses. It fits temptingly into the more reasonable Christmas present price bracket (when compared to a new iPhone…!).
The Spectacles deal neatly with the main privacy issues raised with doomed rival Google Glass. When the device is recording, one of the corner circles in the frame lights up, making it clear when an individual is being filmed. For now, the device is also limited to 10-second clips, making it almost impossible to record in the cinema or theatre.
Circle of life
Aside from the physical product, the other potentially game-changing innovation is circular video. This has come completely out of the blue, and has been overshadowed by the Spectacles themselves.
Circular video is the quiet answer to the age-old industry debate about portrait vs. landscape video. To save thousands of words, here is the concept in a handy diagram from @eduo:
Still baffled? This mesmerising gif perfectly demonstrates how flexible it can be:
Bruce Daisley, VP of Twitter in Europe, is enthusiastic about the possibilities. “I think it’s the greatest innovation in photography in 30 years,” he said. “I don’t think people will realise until 2017, but respect to Snapchat for true genius”.
Liam O’Dowd, Head of Search Marketing at Cefar Digital was unimpressed with the release of Spectacles, describing them as ‘a gimmicky form of Google Glass’. But it all changed when he saw circular video.
“I was blown away; truly one of those ‘so simple it’s amazing’ moments that only come along so often,” he explained. “Vertical clips on horizontal screens are something that really irks me, but this has the potential to change the game for cross-device video.”
The selfie problem
The fatal flaw in Snap’s Spectacles is a very simple one: narcissism. The whole foundation of Snapchat is built on our self-obsession; from its early primary use as a way to send temporary naughty pictures, to the millions of pouts, filtered faces and mini videos that are sent through it every minute today.
Spectacles demands a level of selflessness from its wearer. It certainly wouldn’t work for groups of young people and those who like ‘proving’ they are present at an event. We only have to look at the iconic image of hundreds of Hillary fans turning their backs on her to capture a selfie with her in the background. These people would have taken much clearer photographs by turning around, but our culture has moved beyond that point. There are thousands of crystal-clear photos of Clinton, but the magic for the crowd is in proving to their friends that they were there too.
This is also where the comparisons with GoPro fall down. GoPro’s can be mounted easily to capture the user snowboarding, skating or surfing, and comes with its own line of selfie sticks. With mobiles, tablets and GoPros, the option for a person to turn it around and bring themselves into the narrative is something which has defined our culture today. It is a vital function which is missing from Spectacles, and is likely to be the silent flaw which draws its life to an early close.
However, there is a limited market which may offer some hope for Spectacles. For those proud parents who want to capture vital milestones in their baby’s life, Spectacles offers a more elegant, hands-free solution than precariously balancing a mobile phone. The appeal of a first-hand view to send to relatives is clear, and the family angle has already been used in Snap’s demo of circular video (see above).
Aside from the flaws in its audience appeal, even the name ‘Spectacles’ has connotations with those old, crusty wire frames hidden down the back of Grandpa’s chair. The functionality is very limited, and it seems to be missing the playful ideology that has made Snapchat so successful.
Short-sighted, but will it be short-lived?
Despite all this, Snap are certainly brave for walking where Google Glass’ grave is so fresh. The potential in Spectacles isn’t what they currently are, it’s what they could become. Snap has shown itself capable of driving forward massive innovations, firstly in capturing and retaining a notoriously difficult millennial user base, and then through inventing a new video format.
Snapchat itself had humble app beginnings, and has since evolved into the second most downloaded app in the world. Perhaps Spectacles is simply the primitive beginning of a long and happy relationship with the wearables industry. Yet they seem to be a little short of the mark; an idea which sounds cool sketched out on the back of a napkin, but with little subsequent thought given to its product appeal.
We put the question to followers of @MediaBrief on Twitter to see whether they agreed or not, and ‘A short lived gimmick’ won the majority of the vote.
As for me, I have to confess that despite everything, a small part of me really fancies a go with them…
This article originally appeared on The Media Briefing