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Snap’s New Spectacles Are A Lot Less Of A Spectacle

With Snap’s second generation of camera glasses, the company is refining its vision for Snapchat hardware rather than offering a new one.

After nearly two years, Snap is releasing the sequel to its Spectacles camera glasses. They feature the same rounded silhouette as the original product, but they’re now priced at $150 rather than $130. For that, you get a product that’s sleeker, waterproof, and, perhaps most notably, available in more subtle color ways that are designed to blend in more than stand out. Even the camera itself, which was highlighted on the glasses with a bright yellow outline, has been toned down to match the design rather than contrast it.

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“[We’re] making glasses in colors that aren’t so loud, and don’t look so much like toys,” says Lauryn Morris, design lead on Spectacles. “Departing from the yellow rings, that unto itself is huge for a lot of people.”

[Photos: Snap Inc.]

Snap is not the pre-IPO wunderkind that it was just two years ago. Rather, it’s faced with mounting challenges: Its growth has slowed, it’s upsetting its own users and influencers, and frankly no one I’ve talked to is clamoring for a new edition of Spectacles like they are the next iPhone. It’s hard to imagine a riskier moment for Snap to re-release them. At the same time, Snap considers itself a camera company–and the redesigned Spectacles are an opportunity to put its camera directly on more of its users’ faces.

[Photo: Snap Inc.]

Snap Spectacles launched amid media frenzy in 2016 through special kiosks in big cities. Initially, they were received as a fun way to record short videos without pulling your phone out of your pocket. With stylish frames and a sense of humor, Snap seemed to get culture right where Google Glass’s cyborg headset had gotten culture so wrong. Spectacles were a self-aware gimmick you might actually want to wear for a party or a night out on the town.

Yet Spectacles weren’t a hit. Snap would go on to sell 220,000 units–which the company maintains is a respectable outing for its first physical product. But the company actually greatly overestimated demand and was left with hundreds of thousands of unsold pairs, forcing it to write off $40 million in hardware as a loss. Furthermore, one report stated that most Spectacles buyers weren’t still using them after a month, meaning the product was missing something that actually made this wearable resonate in our lives.

From my own experience using Spectacles a few times in a few weeks, before putting them away, I’d say a combination of things went wrong: The glasses were fun to wear once or twice, but kind of embarrassing beyond that. While you could record a 10-second video with the tap of your temple, the rest of the UX was a mess. You never knew exactly when that recording began, the video would take what seemed like forever to transfer to your phone. From there, you had to navigate through a section of Snapchat called Memories to share anything. It was simply a lot easier to use Snapchat the traditional way than through this camera on your face.

As Morris explains, Snap attempted to address many of these qualms by presenting a new design. On the industrial design end, Snap took a pointedly conservative approach. It didn’t update its silhouette, despite fashion moving two years in the future since the first iteration. “We wanted to lean into this classic look we created up front, while we improved the UI and the aesthetic in other ways,” says Morris. Given that producing many different frames with internal electronics would be cost prohibitive, the design team is banking on their shape reaching icon status.

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[Photo: Snap Inc.]

Minor changes are abound, though. The nose bridge was flattened, and the temple bars–which are loaded with the bulk of electronics–look roughly half the size of the first version. The acetate frame itself was also reformulated, to create a more translucent look that’s typical in eyewear. Together, these updates should make the glasses feel more comfortable, and flattering, on more faces.

“Another thing we’ve done is completely update the color palette,” says Morris.  “We’ve moved into sort of moody jewel tones.” Out are the robin’s egg blue and canary yellow designs. In are black, cranberry, and blue mono-hue designs.

Morris insists that the color updates are not intended to disguise Spectacles like some covert spycam on your face. The camera is still visible, framed in a highlight of color, and when you record, an LED ring will still broadcast to the world. Rather, Snap believes a pair of black Spectacles could be more feasible for everyday wear than the wild hues of version one.

[Photo: Snap Inc.]

“It was important for us to take a step to sophistication,” says Morris. “I believe the closer we can get to a form factor that feels and looks like . . . glasses, that can be when we reach an inflection point, because someone will reach for these when they go for a daily pair of sunglasses.”

As for the way you’ll use Spectacles, all of that is mostly unchanged. On the back end, the Bluetooth transfer of media from the glasses to your phone will be three times faster than before, and the camera supports photos now, too. If you didn’t like the round, tilt, and pan-friendly videos before, know that none of that has changed. The fidelity of capture should be markedly improved, however, as the camera will be filming at higher resolution. And the glasses have two mics rather than one–balancing out the volume of a conversation the Spectacles wearer might record with a friend, for example.

[Image: Snap Inc.]
“It starts to feel a lot more like a memory, where it’s capturing crisp quality in a 105-degree field-of-view, which is akin to the human eye,” says Morris, even if that specific number is debatable. “And the quality of the audio that’s picked up is very similar to what you remember hearing. Your own voice isn’t so overpowered.”

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It’s certainly an enticing thought: That Spectacles aren’t just meant to be an easier way to share Snaps, but are one of the first major attempts to record true, first-person memories–that are are free to share outside of Snapchat itself, too. But projects along these lines have never faired all that well, whether it was Microsoft’s life-logging camera, the Memoto, or even Google Glass itself.

By objective measures, the redesigned Spectacles look all-around improved, and they’re the product of more work and research than most of us will probably ever know. Yet they follow a industry standard playbook of iterating on a product–make it thinner, and prettier, and iron out some of the most annoying bugs–at a moment when Wall Street is probably expecting a swing for the fences.

That said, whether or not it succeeded with Spectacles in the past, or even whether it does with this release, Snap sounds fully committed to building the first mainstream camera that you’re willing to wear. “That’s something we think about all day, every day,” says Morris.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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