While sports and fitness wearables have well and truly taken off in the last few years, the adoption of consumer devices has been clunky at best. Both Apple and Google have struggled to make their wearable products stick, with the latter’s Glass drawing poor reviews and equally poor usage figures. As popular as wrist-worn devices have become, it’s difficult to see head-mounted tech following the same adoption curve with issues of intrusion and style holding back smart glasses.
It’s against this backdrop that the company formerly known as Snapchat is releasing its aptly named Spectacles. The one-size-fits-all sunglasses have a 115-degree wide view lens, which ‘captures the human perspective’ more effectively than other cameras and will, the company hopes, set the glasses apart. Tapping the top left-hand corner of the glass’s frame will capture 10 seconds of video, and three taps will record 30 seconds of continuous video, which is then sent to a smartphone’s Snapchat app via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
Tech Crunch described the newly renamed Snap Inc. as ‘the only company cool enough to possibly dismantle the Google Glass stigma,’ and it seems to have learned from Google’s mistakes. One of the major issues Glass faced was around privacy; the public had no way of telling if they were being filmed by a wearer. Spectacles have a light fitted to the corner of the device that illuminates when it’s recording, a measure Snap Inc. will hope can keep the public arguments to a minimum. Battery life is another issue with smart glasses, with PC Advisor finding that Glass’ ‘day-long’ battery life runs out by around 4:30pm. Spectacles come with a charging carry-case, which can fill the day-long battery life four times on a single charge.
There are, predictably, reservations about the product, though. Though considerably more affordable than Google’s more functional offering, a price tag of $129.99 (£100) is high for a product deemed ‘just for fun,’ particularly when it remains to be seen if the public will consider the product a necessary addition to an otherwise adequate smartphone camera. We’ll have to wait and see if issues of shakiness and privacy affect the product, too, but the response to Snap Inc.’s first serious physical product has largely been good.
And it has to be. Snap Inc.’s core product is being targeted aggressively by Facebook and its subsidiaries, following years of rejected attempts at acquisition and a series of failed mimics. Instagram’s relatively new Stories feature is lifted straight from Snapchat and its filters are one of Snap Inc.’s last remaining trump cards. It needs to diversify its range, and wearables could be a good way of doing so with decent profit margins. CEO Evan Spiegel has already done well to position the product as aspirational, pushing the angle that it removes the ’wall in front of your face’ issue many have with incessant smartphone usage at events.
Just one look at the Spectacles and you expect the product will resonate more with its users than Glass ever could. Snapchat has a younger user base, and it has directly targeted the fashion conscious rather than the tech enthusiast. Having the cameras mounted into sunglasses - rather than sleek, professional frames - is a conscious decision about where and by whom the company wants its Spectacles to be used. 60% of Snapchat’s users are between the ages of 13 and 24, with only 12% over the age of 35 - it’s clear who Snap Inc. is designing for and it’s a sensible strategy to target a smaller group with a novel piece of tech.
Partly where Google fell down so catastrophically was in the overtly futuristic, minimalist design of its Glass. The average consumer has only been recently introduced to wearable technology more generally, and the steps toward adoption have to be gentle ones. Snap Inc.’s Spectacles appear as an adapted classic, rather than a revolutionary piece of technology, and will be far less of a head-turner than the aesthetically unusual Glass. Snap Inc. claims the release - which could be very soon - will be limited until consumer opinion can be properly gauged but, in the long road to expunging the bad taste left by Google Glass, the company may be set to take giant strides.