In today's tech industry, companies avoid focusing on a single technology, like only working on smartphones or being loyal to digital apps. In their desire to capture more market share and increase their global influence, tech companies work on different products at the same time. An interest in a particular technology often depends on current trends, and it doesn't take a scientist to indicate the most popular one of 2016 - Augmented Reality (AR).
Surprisingly, another innovation in the AR field has every chance of being delivered by Snapchat. The platform is currently enjoying more than 100 million active daily users snapping from their smartphones and tablets, and soon, a ghost icon may also appear on another type of device - highly likely related to Augmented Reality hardware. Rumors first appeared when CNet published an article, where journalists investigated Snapchat's current recruitment activity. Indeed, Snapchat is actively recruiting industrial designers and engineers and even secretly acquiring startups related to AR, machine learning, and hardware design. The news spread like a virus and caught the attention of fans, competitors and tech enthusiasts all around the globe.
Snapchat has never launched a physical product, and considering the nature of the latest additions to the team - something must be happening there.
One hint that Snapchat is exploring the world of AR is that back in 2014, a unicorn secretly acquired Vergence Labs, who make frames for Google Glass-like eyewear - the deal details leaked as a part of the Sony hacking scandal. Also, Snapchat is now a proud member of Bluetooth SIG (Bluetooth Special Interest Group) - why would the company participate if it's not interested in hardware?
In regards to recent hires, they include Mark Dixon, a Tech Recruiter for Hardware & Devices (served at Snapchat for more than a year until July 2016), Eitan Pilipski, Engineering Director who was previously involved in computer vision techniques for AR (predominantly in smartphones and smart eyewear). On his LinkedIn profile, Philipski modestly put his new Snapchat role as just an engineer but slipped another hint by describing his previous role in Qualcomm's AR platform Vuforia, where he contributed significantly to both VR and AR hardware product development.
Smart eyewear already exists in many forms, however, no one has managed to make devices customer friendly. There is Optinvent's ORA-2, Meta Vision's Meta-2 - AR glass platforms that can be preordered but are available for research purposes only, and are not designed nor intended for use by consumers yet. There is also Recon Jet, a sportier version of the AR eyewear which uses a screen in front that acts as a part of an eye. The device is iOS and Android friendly and orientated for outdoor sports like running and cycling. Due to a 'sporty' design and features focused on improving sport performance, it's undeniably customer-friendly, but only for a particular segment. Among tech giants, everyone is still waiting for Google Glass that is busy refiguring its' device's internal capabilities, and for Microsoft HoloLens' to pass the beta stage.
It would be understandable if Snapchat chooses an AR smart eyewear as a next project. In a race between AR and VR, the latter is losing, as capabilities of VR are limited and don't have much to offer in the future. Companies and consumers see more potential in AR too, because the list of features that can be incorporated in the AR eyewear is endless. All of these factors create many opportunities in the market and an attractive playground for investors. 'The Pokemon Go effect' has triggered the popularity of AR, and now it's a perfect time to jump in with another AR innovation while the interest in AR is at its peak. Despite Snapchat being young and coming from a startup background, the platform has already got it right with building a large user base and succeeding in data collection. There is certainly something to look forward to from Snapchat, but for now, we are left bite our nails in suspense.