In a rather Google-like move this past weekend, Snapchat relaunched itself as Snap, a company that produces the Snapchat app, and Spectacles, a new wearable camera that looks like a pair of rather fashionable sunglasses.
Spectacles bare more than a passing resemblance to the sorts of sunglass brands that are in fashion right now—thick, curved frames with colored mirror lenses that have been popularized by brands like Illesteva—and coupled with their pricing, it feels like Snap has hit on a product that shows how well the company knows its target demographic.
The inevitable comparisons have been drawn to Google Glass, the company’s ill-received attempt to bring a wearable computer to the mainstream. But with their pricing and marketing, it seems Spectacles are not intended for Silicon Valley utopians or early tech adopters. “I think they are pretty different,” Jan Dawson, the chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, told Quartz. “Spectacles are supposed to be a consumer product that’s fashion first—Glass was about strapping technology to your face.”
Spectacles are something different: They are a wireless camera, relying on a paired smartphone for their computational power. They were developed after Snap acquired a company called Vergence Labs in 2014 that made glasses-mounted cameras just like the ones that Snap will be releasing.
Vergence priced its products between $300 and $500, which put them in a far different category than Snap’s glasses, Dawson said. A price of $300 put the frames up against products like the Apple Watch, and some lower-end smartphones. At $130, Snap is competing against stocking stuffers like FitBit’s activity trackers, or Apple’s AirPods: Not something that its younger audience would be able to afford with their allowances, but definitely an affordable price for many of their parents with the holiday season approaching.
Spectacles also happen to be roughly the same price as many of the sunglass brands they will compete against. If they’re as well-built as a pair of Warby Parker or Illesteva sunglasses, and they also let you post short videos of the concert you’re at or the brunch you’re about to enjoy onto Snapchat, why not pick up a pair of Spectacles? That’s presumably the thinking that has led Snap to market and design the glasses the way they have. Snap’s marketing even feels like a cross between a GoPro commercial and and an Illesteva promotion:
It’s unclear whether Snap is pricing its glasses to be profitable, or to spur interest—the company wasn’t immediately available to comment on its plans. The company will only be releasing a small number of Spectacles at first, a move that some suspect (paywall) will fan the flames of demand, although it could well just be to figure out whether it can deliver a hardware product. “It’s a high-risk product,” Dawson added, “it’s not like developing an app where each incremental user is free.”
Spectacles will be Snap’s first foray into hardware, a difficult world to inhabit. When there’s a bug in software, you sprint to fix it and release an update as quickly as possible—when there’s a defect in a product, you have to recall it. Inventory needs to be managed; supply chains will need to be set up. Customer service channels will need to be implemented.
There’s no guarantee that these devices will be a hit, but Snap has set up Spectacles for success. Snapchat is immensely popular, with over 150 million people using the app every day, including taste-making celebrities, just about every brand and media outlet, in spite of exceedingly awkward PR gaffes the company keeps creating. Rather like the Pokémon Go craze of this summer, Spectacles infuses technology with something people want (in Nintendo’s case, it was nostalgia; here it’s fashion), rather than forcing technology onto somewhere it doesn’t belong, like Google Glass.
Spectacles’ technology may not be all that revolutionary—it’s just a GoPro on your face—but at the price Snap has set, it’s accessible. Even Snap CEO Evan Spiegel has referred to them (paywall) as a “toy,” possibly to temper expectations on what these glasses will be able to do.
Still, many see these glasses as the first step in bringing augmented-reality into the mainstream. “I think Snapchat is pushing the edges of what the camera is,” Josh Elman, a partner at the venture capital firm Greylock Partners, told CNBC this week. “I think their brand is so strong with people in their early 20s that they might sell a lot more of these than anybody is predicting. They’re positioning it as this fun toy for people to engage with, not something that you need to think about as your next big technology investment.”
Future versions of Spectacles, if they prove to be a success, could turn your coworker into a dog, but also remind you that you have a meeting soon and show you the quickest way to the coffee shop you’re supposed to be at in five minutes. And provide a powerful platform for advertising. Brands would have captive eyeballs—literally—that few other devices or platforms could provide.
If the glasses flop, at a price point of $130, Spiegel and his team have already positioned them as just a bit of fun, and the company can move on to other ideas on how to monetize its growing audience.
Either way, it seems like a win for Snap.