A Blog by Jonathan Low


Sep 26, 2016

Cool But Controversial: Snapchat Debuts Sunglass Camera

Even more convenient than snapping pics with your phone and much more stylish than those nerdy Google Glasses (though still burdened with privacy concerns).

Since speed and convenience appear to be the dominant factors driving consumer choice, the only question is how long it is going to take for tech and medical science to telepathically text photos directly from your eyeballs to your posses'...JL

Yoree Koh reports in the Wall Street Journal:

The one-size-fits-all glasses are designed to connect to a smartphone so Snapchat users easily can share videos through the app. What binds these strategies is a desire to attract as many people to their services as possible, whether a retail site, a search engine or a social network. The company may contend with privacy concerns faced by Google Glass, which was banned by bars and movie theaters. (And) hardware is more complicated than app development.
Snapchat’s unveiling of camera-equipped sunglasses thrusts the messaging app maker into the cutthroat hardware business, a risky move that reflects its strength in video, but follows a shaky record by internet giants.
The Venice, Calif., startup revealed Spectacles, a $130 pair of stylish sunglasses outfitted with a camera that with a tap of a button near the hinge can record up to 10 seconds of video at a time.
The one-size-fits-all glasses, which come in black, teal or coral and will be available this fall in limited quantities, are designed to connect to a smartphone so Snapchat users easily can share videos through the app.The company also changed its corporate name to Snap Inc. to characterize its ambitions beyond the messaging app that has made it so popular, particularly among teens and millennials.

About 150 million people use Snapchat daily during which more than 10 billion videos are viewed, according to the company.

Snapchat’s domination with younger audiences has helped the company earn an $18 billion valuation from investors, garner buzz among big-brand advertisers such as  PepsiCo Inc.,  and strike partnerships with media companies such as BuzzFeed Inc. and The Wall Street Journal.

Snapchat has transformed what many assumed would be a fad—messages, photos and videos that disappear—into a different form of social behavior. Whereas  Facebook  and Instagram tend to serve as living monuments of people’s lives, Snapchat’s ephemeral nature encourages users to share imperfect photos and videos of the moment.

Spectacles represents the next phase of that idea by removing the phone in front of the users’ faces and freeing their hands. Its 115-degree-angle lens is wider than a typical smartphone’s and produces circular video so the viewer feels like they are experiencing the recorder’s perspective.

But a foray into hardware is decisively more complicated than app development. Inventory must be managed precisely. The products, especially sunglasses, need to appeal to fickle consumers.

Unlike in the internet world where companies can quickly patch up glitchy software with an updated release, hardware fixes mean a recall or waiting for the next model.

Snap declined to provide more details about Spectacles, including how much they have invested in the project and who will be manufacturing the sunglasses.

Snapchat’s app has had its flaws. It suffered a security breach in 2014 that exposed millions of users identifying information. Users complained earlier this year when it released a photo “lens” that altered their likeness to that of reggae legend  Bob Marley —including a skin-darkening tint some people equated to blackface.

“Companies that are brand new in hardware tend not to do those things very well, so that will be a challenge for Snapchat,” said  Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research.

A sea of hardware failures from internet companies underscores the difficulty of wading into uncharted territory. Google’s costly move into smartphone manufacturing with the $12.5 billion acquisition of handset maker  Motorola Inc.  ended in 2014 after just 22 months.

Last year Google, a unit of  Alphabet Inc.,  stopped selling its Google Glass head-mounted device after it drew ridicule and raised privacy concerns for its ability to surreptitiously record video.

Facebook Inc. only recently plunged into consumer hardware, this year selling the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset whose arrival was beset by shipping delays.

What binds these companies’ strategies is a desire to attract as many people to their services as possible, whether a retail site, a search engine or a social network.

Five-year-old Snap, which has raised more than $2 billion in venture capital, is early to the field by comparison. Amazon, Google and Facebook all began selling their first consumer gadgets about a dozen years after they launched their sites.

In an interview with WSJ Magazine, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel calls Spectacles a toy, with limited distribution starting this fall.

“We’re going to take a slow approach to rolling them out,” the 26-year-old said. “It’s about us figuring out if it fits into people’s lives and seeing how they like it.”

The company may need to contend with similar privacy concerns faced by Google Glass, which was banned by some bars and movie theaters.

For now, Spectacles’ video can be wirelessly transferred to the Snapchat app where it eventually disappears.

Snap said outward facing lights around the camera lens would alert others the user is in recording mode. Still, the darkened sunglass lens could make it less clear what exactly is being recorded.

Snap could benefit from a lack of competition and lower expectations, Mr. Dawson said. But the low-margin nature of the consumer-electronics business demands that Spectacles would need to achieve scale to be successful.

Mark Suster, an avid Snapchat user and a partner at Los Angeles venture-capital firm Upfront Ventures, said the glasses could help him be the default cameraman at a family outing.

“I’m the one who has to take out the phone and take the video or picture, which means I can’t live in the moment,” he said. “I love the idea of being at a soccer game or a birthday party and having my glasses do that.”


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