Snapchat moves into wearable technology with new video camera sunglasses

Snapchat has joined the battle to sell the latest wearable technology with the announcement of its new Spectacles glasses, a pair of sunglasses with a built-in video camera. With this announcement, Snapchat also changed its corporate name to Snap Inc. as an indication of how the company aims to expand beyond the messaging app that made them well-known.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Friday that this announcement marks a significant milestone in the company’s transition from software into hardware products.

Leaked stills from a promotional video for the glasses showed up in Business Insider on Sept. 23, depicting a pair of dark mirrored lenses surrounded by a black frame. In the upper, outer corner of both lenses is a dime-sized camera that lights up. According to the WSJ report, Spectacles will be available for purchase in limited quantities this fall and will come in one size and three colors: black, coral and teal. Tapping a button near the hinge of the glasses will record 10 seconds of video, while simultaneously lighting up on the rims to let people know that the user is recording.

The technical details of the cameras, such as what resolution the video footage is shot at, have not been released yet, but the device uses an 115-degree camera lens with a fisheye rendering effect.

Users can charge Spectacles by placing them inside their special case. A full charge will give one enough uptime to record for a day, and a case holds an additional four charges. For iOS users, the glasses will transfer videos using Bluetooth and high-resolution recordings over Wi-Fi, but Android users will only be able to use Wi-Fi, according to a Sept. 4 article in The Verge. 

By designing Spectacles to be sunglasses, Snap, Inc, seems to suggest that users should use them primarily outdoors; the leaked promo videos show what appear to be parents playing with children on a playground, or teenagers riding skateboards. The glasses’ rather eccentric appearance, resulting from the need to store extra tech inside the rims make it seem geared towards teenagers willing to be more experimental with their choice of eyewear aesthetic. Others suggest that Snap has designed their eyewear in a way that will appeal to young people.

“If you look at the kinds of glasses millennials wear, the design is very ‘in,’” Carolina Milanesi, a consumer technology analyst at Creative Strategies, said.

Snap’s 26-year-old founder and CEO Evan Spiegel told the WSJ that Spectacles would be headed in a different direction from Google Glass, a more complex device released by Google in 2014 with a liquid-crystal on silicon display and a camera that could take photos and record 1080p HD video. Snap Inc.’s product is certainly less costly than Google’s; a pair of Spectacles will only set you back $129.99 while the Google Glass Explorer Edition was priced at $1,500. Even though Spectacles are certainly not as pretentious as Glass, critics will likely have similar complaints about a pair of glasses with the ability to record video.

Google Glass users in San Francisco and New York City encountered backlash from others who objected to their wearing of the devices in public spaces, labeling the Glass wearers as “Glassholes.There was a widespread misconception that Glass was always recording, despite that not being true, and people around Glass wearers said it made them feel uncomfortable. While Glass showed great potential to enhance our ability to multitask, public perception was so negative that the project was scrapped by Google in 2015.

Spiegel understands the risks of following in Google’s footsteps, choosing to treat the device not as a hardware launch but as a fun toy available to a limited number of people. Spiegel seemed to hint at the challenges Spectacles faces as it tries to appeal to a demographic that has yet to fully embrace wearable technology.

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