Snapchat Spectacles debut: What did Snap learn from Google Glass?

Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel announced its new product - sunglasses with a camera - that aims to avoid the missteps Google took in launching its infamous Google Glass.

Google Glass was called “dorky: “not useful” and “disturbing to people around.” The tech giant’s failure to revolutionize high-tech eyewear left a gap in the field - one that Snapchat is trying to fill with its first hardware product.

Announced on Friday to a small group of people, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel revealed the product - called Spectacles - as a pair of sunglasses that has the ability to capture short videos from a first person perspective, reports The Wall Street Journal. The company is also renaming itself Snap Inc. to reflect its move away from only offering messaging services. While Snapchat officials say the camera glasses will only be available this fall in limited editions, it is apparent that the company has learned some lessons from Google Glass.

The price, aesthetics, and simplicity of Spectacles are almost the opposite of the Google Glass approach.

The goal for Spectacles was to create a way of capturing video without the hassle of holding a camera or phone and from a perspective that fully immerses the user, according to Spiegel who described in his experience testing a prototype in 2015.

“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,” Spiegel told The Wall Street Journal. “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.”

Here’s how Spectacles camera works: A click on a button at the corner of the sunglasses will record up to 10 seconds of video. The camera has a wide-angle lens - similar to a fish-eye lens on GoPro cameras. The glasses connect wirelessly to a smartphone.

When Google Glass was first pitched in 2012, the price point was $1,500 per pair. Spectacles will also have limited distribution in the beginning, but its price will be at a much lower $129.99, potentially easing the complaints many had about Google Glass’ exorbitant price that wasn’t worth the hype.

One of the biggest criticisms about Google Glass was that it was an invasion of privacy. The glasses were banned in some restaurants for potentially disturbing other people and users have reported being told by strangers to take the glasses off when walking on the street.

“I found that it was not very useful for very much, and it tended to disturb people around me that I have this thing,” James Katz, the director of emerging media studies at Boston University’s College of Communication, told MIT Technology Review in 2014.

Spectacles circumvent that by only recording 10 seconds of video at a time, and it being sunglasses, may limit its use indoors, which could decrease wariness of strangers about invasion of privacy.

"Making them sunglasses helps hide the camera better, but it also limits the usage somewhat - you’ll need to be outside in daylight,” Carolina Milanesi, a consumer technology analyst from Creative Strategies, told the BBC.

Milanesi also commented about the aesthetics of the device that could be “cooler” than Google Glasses.

"If you look at the kinds of glasses millennials wear, the design is very ‘in’," she told BBC.

Recode describes the product as “a funny, laid-back play on designer sunglasses. They’re cheap enough to be an impulse purchase for many, or a reasonable gift.”

Google Glass certainly tried to move its product into high fashion, as The Christian Science Monitor previously reported, but the efforts didn’t pan out.

Another crucial misstep Google made that Snap Inc. avoided was the high-profile prototype of Google Glass. As a Google executive Astro Teller said in a South by Southwest keynote address last year, it was not a final product, but all the attention it received doomed the product in the public’s eyes.

"The thing that we did not do well – that was closer to a failure – was that we allowed and sometimes even encouraged too much attention for the program,” Mr. Teller said, as reported by AdWeek.  "We could have done a better job communicating that and preventing it from becoming as loud of a conversation as it got,"

Spiegel, on the other hand, plans to start slow. He calls it a toy, something to be worn at barbecues or outdoor concerts maybe - in contrast to Google’s flashy launch with skydivers and bike jumpers using the technology.

“We’re going to take a slow approach to rolling them out,” Spiegel told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s about us figuring out if it fits into people’s lives and seeing how they like it.”

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