Why Snapchat's camera glasses are the start of something huge
The Spectacles might not make any sense - but that's kind of the point
Snapchat has a simple plan for global domination.
Step one: change your name to something more... well, snappy.
Step two: launch a low-cost gadget that will appeal to the millions of millennials who helped your image-sharing app become one of the most influential in the world.
And thus Evan Spiegel, CEO of newly named Snap, has shown off the company's new Spectacles:
The £100 Spectacles pack a camera, wi-fi and Bluetooth receivers directly into their frame, along with a day-long battery charge via the carry case.
Tapping a button on the frame begins a ten second video recording, filmed in a new circular video format that "plays full screen on any device, in any orientation, and captures the human perspective with a 115 degree field of view". Once you've beamed your video over to your connected smartphone, you'll be able to upload it to
Snapchat Snap to share with your mates.
The Spectacles will arrive in three colours (black, teal and coral) and roll out (in unconfirmed numbers) this autumn.
Spectacles should be a joke.
They should be a gadget that causes us all to point and laugh, to declare them an invention bound to follow the likes of Google Glass and wearable mini-cams into the same bin of bad tech ideas. But we've a feeling these are going to be big. Really big.
First, the Spectacles aren't anywhere near as ambitious as the Google Glass: Google's all-seeing wonder tech offered so many features - from augmented views to recording to voice recognition - that it was hard to pin down exactly what they were for. That, coupled with high costs, meant that developers and users alike were never truly convinced.
The Spectacles of Snap require no elaborate explanation - they just do video, and they do it with a unique offering.
In an interview with Wall Street Journal, 26-year-old Evan Spiegel extolled the virtues of the Spectacles' 115-degree-angle lens, creating videos that are more like "human vision". He recounts the first time he used the prototype glasses back in 2015 with his fiancée, supermodel Miranda Kerr.
"It was our first vacation, and we went to Big Sur for a day or two. We were walking through the woods, stepping over logs, looking up at the beautiful trees. And when I got the footage back and watched it, I could see my own memory, through my own eyes - it was unbelievable. It’s one thing to see images of an experience you had, but it’s another thing to have an experience of the experience. It was the closest I’d ever come to feeling like I was there again."
Secondly, and more importantly than any tech feature, is Spiegel's ability to market to millennials.
Think about it: when Snapchat launched in September 2011, it didn't make a lot of sense to anyone over the age of 18; record videos that you can send to one person, before they disappear forever. There was none of the permanence of Instagram, no apparent networking potential of Facebook, no charges, no advertising, just hormones, nudity and secrecy.
By 2013 it had been installed 60 million times, with 16.5 million active daily users. By 2016, it's got 150 million daily users, generating 10 billion video views a day across new paid-for channels from major media partners.
So, when a company that didn't make sense to begin with, with am appeal that only drew teenagers, releases a gadget that doesn't really make sense, marketed only to teenagers, you'd better expect it to be huge - just not a conventional hit.
Take Spiegel's sell on the Spectacles in the Wall Street Journal interview - he describes his company's first foray into the complicated world of gadgets as a "toy".
"We’re going to take a slow approach to rolling them out," he explains. "It’s about us figuring out if it fits into people’s lives and seeing how they like it."
Why make something that could backfire? That could get the company embroiled in privacy arguments, in complicated marketing campaigns, in stuff Snap hasn't had to do before?
"Because it’s fun," says Spiegel. Expect Spectacles to be the super-cool, unobtainable gadget of 2016/2017 - the precursor of more cameras and gadgets, of a slow drip of devices that could lead to Snap taking on the likes of GoPro. And expect it to make absolutely no sense if you've over the age of 18.