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Snapchat's Spectacles: How Digital Eyewear Could Escape The Nerd Factor

Unlike other wearable cameras, these sunglasses don't try to do too much—and that could help them take off where others have failed.

Snapchat's Spectacles: How Digital Eyewear Could Escape The Nerd Factor

For years, Snapchat has offered effects that allow a range of silly augmentations to its users’ on-screen faces. But soon, its facial accessories will extend to real life.

At an expected price of about $130, Spectacles will cost a fraction of what that last celebrated piece of geeky headwear, Google Glass, went for. A key reason for the price difference is that the Spectacles lack the augmented reality electronics that Glass had. But it was Glass’s ability to capture photos and videos that freaked people out, even though such capabilities have positive applications. Capturing snapshots and short videos is at the heart of Spectacles, which help tip off people that you're recording by showing a light.

Beyond their consumer-friendly price tag, Spectacles are far better poised for success than Google Glass, for a few reasons. These include their more traditional, even playful look. (That said, they are not stylish or practical enough to be a constant option for spontaneous video capture without a smartphone.) Unlike Glass or even the smartwatches drawing most of the attention these days, Snap, Inc.—the company formerly known as Snapchat—isn't trying to be a platform for other companies' apps. No reliance on third-party developers can make it easier for a product to get out of the gate, even if it can prove a liability in the long run. Regardless of whether you want it, you know what it does.

Despite being a wearable camera, the Spectacles are not intended for record-your-whole-life life-logging, a task that led to the undoing of hardware startups Autographer and Narrative, even as another such device recently cleared the crowdfunding rite of passage. The use case for Spectacles is more similar to that of Looxcie, another conspicuous wearable camera that struggled in the consumer market after several major design revisions. But Looxcie never hit the Spectacles’ price point or had at its disposal an audience of more than 100 million consumers already using its companion app. Spectacles also arrives as Snapchat and its rivals are embracing live personal broadcasting.

That makes the Spectacles more of a cousin to GoPro's action cameras, intended to be used in particular situations, as opposed to the cyborg-evoking Glass that, at one point at least, was intended to be an all-day user interface to the real world. The gadget still needs to carve out a position between GoPro's enthusiast market and the ultimate mass market of the ever-present, ever-improving cameras built into smartphones. If it fails to do so, it wouldn't be the first time a hot social network stumbled in hardware or incited ridicule. And unless it avoids such missteps, Spectacles may prove as ephemeral as Snapchat’s photos.

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