These days it can seem as though things are more often experienced through the lens of a smartphone camera, than with someone's own eyes.
Phones are a barrier
While many people enjoy smartphone technology and sharing their adventures on social media, phones can construct a literal barrier between humans who might otherwise interact face-to-face. This may be why companies such as Snap Inc., famous for the popular social media app Snapchat, are constantly seeking to expand their product and introduce new technology.
There is a hunt on for technological innovations that remove the need to look at a phone screen while still being able to capture and share experiences on social media. Snap made their first attempt in 2016 when they launched their camera glasses, the Snap Spectacles.
Although the spectacles generated a fair amount of initial interest, they were judged by most to be something of a flop. Now Snap are launching their new Spectacles 002 with improved features. They hope to rekindle the spark of interest that people had for camera glasses.
The Snap Flop
After the original Snap Spectacles product reveal in September 2016, only 0.08% of Snapchat's users purchased the camera glasses in the months that followed. Even worse, internal Snap data shows that less than 50% of buyers continued to use the Spectacles for more than one month after purchase.
Snapbot vending machines first appeared in November 2016, two months after the glasses were first announced. While the buzz may have had time to cool down a bit in the weeks following the initial reveal, people were still eager to get their hands on a pair as long lines formed at the vending machines.
Snapbots were located via a tool on the Snapchat website. Of course, Snap made a conscious effort to cash in on the hype surrounding these bright yellow, minion-like vending machines. This innovative and unique method of selling likely appealed to the customers fun side, as well as their need to own something exclusive and special.
Eventually available online
On 20th February 2017, a lengthy five months after the reveal, Snap started selling their Spectacles online in the U.S. Five months is a long time in the fast-moving gadget and tech world. By this point, the glasses were no longer as cool, as the initial hype had died down.
Potential customers had already seen the glasses all over the internet, alongside disparaging product reviews. Most owners had stopped using them by this point, and the honeymoon season was over.
The wait was even longer for Europe, where the Spectacles were not openly available until June 2017, a whole eight months after the product launch.
No celebrities on board
The quick fall from glory for the v1.0 Spectacles may also be in part attributed to the lack of promotional support by influential people. If Snap had made use of celebrities or even recruited a Kardashian, might we have seen a more fanatical interest?
Circular video format
The new Spectacles shoot in a circular video format, just as the originals did. This makes it difficult for users to export content to other social media. Instagram's rectangular format used for Stories, for example, will make it obvious when Spectacle videos are exported, as the result will be a circular video inside a white square.
The original Spectacles were criticised for being clunky and looking a bit goofy. Additionally, the shaded lenses made them not very convenient when wearing indoors or at night. This made it difficult to get a good result from the Spectacles during parties, concerts, meals and other social gatherings.
Snap never offered non-shaded lenses, nor did they have an official partnership with any of the companies that offered to insert clear, or even prescription lenses, as a third-party product. The lack of a solution from Snap themselves may have led to a number of potential customers writing off the product before purchasing it.
The feeling of being watched
One major concern many people feel strongly about is the invasion of their privacy that wearable cameras bring. Not the privacy of the user, but rather the infringement on the private life of anyone who might happen to be caught on one of these cameras. Some may feel very uncomfortable if they see another person wearing Snap Spectacles, and understandably so.
It is arguably possible for an outsider to see when the spectacles are in use. The lens has a circle around it which lights up when the camera is activated. However, this subtle feature does little to assuage the fears some have of being surveilled.
It is not unreasonable to feel a level of concern over where this normalisation of cameras everywhere may lead society, and our governments. While some dream of living out their lives in front of a camera, many others wish to remain private, or at least discreet.
Despite the flop of the first Spectacles and the fact that Snap had to write down a $40 million loss in unsold products, they have recently started selling a new version in the North American and European Markets.
After the company confirmed the release of their new Spectacles, Snap Inc. shares rose by more than 3%.
The new version offers a number of small upgrades from the original. The Spectacles 002 come in three colours, namely onyx, ruby and sapphire. Buyers can now also choose between two lens shades.
A welcome feature to the new Spectacles is water resistance, making the camera glasses usable during bad weather, pool parties, and even in shallow water. Also, the frame of the Spectacles itself has become lighter and less clunky.
Competing with Instagram
Snapchat, like any business, strives to be more interesting in order to set themselves apart from competitors such as Instagram. The issue here is that all content created using the Spectacles can only be synced with Snapchat Memories. Before they are synced, it is not possible to download or export them.
This can put people off from choosing them if they are not already Snapchat users. It is a ponderous strategy choice, to say the least. On one hand, it could lead to Snapchat winning terrain with more users who wish to use the spectacles. On the other hand, it might deter potential buyers altogether.
The age of social media
Snapchat has always been about communicating visually, and there might not be a better way to share your literal view of the world. Spectacles 002 may very well rekindle the interest in camera glasses. And even if it does not, Snap is working the kinks out of its hardware, which could pave the way to an amazing product in the future. Meanwhile, the age of social media sharing is now. Are we about to see an explosion of Snap Spectacles? Or are the new glasses destined for the same fate as their predecessors?
For the time being, wearable camera glasses are a novelty. What will happen when the novelty wears off, and the technology is picked up by someone in a position of power? Someone who could potentially take advantage of the normalisation of these camera glasses, and use them as a way to encourage citizens to spy and report on their neighbours, for example? It is important that these sides of the discussion are not lost amongst the fascination and hype that new gadgets bring.
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