Why Snapchat's Spectacles Can Succeed Where Google Glass Failed

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Is this a look into the future? Snapchat Spectacles
Is this a look into the future? Snapchat Spectacles Credit:  via YouTube

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of regularly appearing columns from Shelly Palmer. --Ken Wheaton

Glassholes, rejoice! Your hopes and dreams are about to be fulfilled by a $129 pair of video-recording Spectacles that its creator calls a "toy." But while they are going to be super-fun to play with, Snap Inc.'s Spectacles are a serious brand extension for the company that created ephemeral visual conversation.

So Long, Snapchat, We Hardly Knew Ye

Snapchat has just renamed itself Snap Inc., and Evan Spiegel, its 26-year-old CEO, has a well-reasoned argument for the change. He wants to free Snapchat from the shackles of your smartphone camera lens. The company's website says, "Snap Inc. is a camera company. We believe that reinventing the camera represents our greatest opportunity to improve the way people live and communicate. Our products empower people to express themselves, live in the moment, learn about the world, and have fun together."

Spectacle Specs
Like previous versions of video-recording eyewear, Spectacles look like a pair of glasses. They have a video camera with a 115-degree-angle lens positioned right next to your eyes -- so every video is shot from your point of view. But unlike a GoPro or your smartphone camera, you don't need to experience the world while holding a camera in front of your face. You simply tap the side of your Spectacles to initiate a 10-second video recording, and it is automatically transferred to the Memories section of your Snapchat app, where you can decide to use it or delete it at your convenience.

Are We Ready for New Video Recording Behaviors?
The ability to use your hands while recording what you were seeing was the only cool thing about Google Glass. Sadly, for Glass users (ultimately known as Glassholes for how pretentious it looked to wear them in public), Google did not provide compelling or emotionally satisfying software to process or distribute the stills and videos you took with Glass. The purpose-built design of Spectacles for Snapchat solves that problem handily.

Snap Inc. hasn't released much more information about Spectacles, except to say that they will be available sometime this fall. I can't wait -- although to Evan Spiegel's point, most of us will only be able to "play" with them. Even though a ring around the Spectacles camera illuminates to warn subjects that they are being recorded, past a "certain age," you won't just be considered pretentious; you will have evolved all the way to creepy.

New Video Grammar for Video Conversations
VVS (vertical video syndrome) was a thing a few years back. Old schoolers had a hard enough time understanding why almost every smartphone camera picture was shot in portrait mode. The idea that people would purposely shoot video with a portrait (vertical) aspect ratio invoked bar arguments about Oxford commas, Rock being the "devil's music" and the "death of the English language" due to social-media abbreviations and initialisms, ROTFL.

But over the past few years, something interesting has happened. Not only have vertical portraiture and videography become commonplace, the camera position (arm fully extended for a selfie, or bent at the elbow for rear-facing image-making) and the ergonomically-imposed compositional choices have created some new rules of video grammar. Snapchat was a powerful driver of this evolution.

Spectacles records images with a 115-degree-angle lens in a circular format. This technological decision will make images appear more closely related to the way your eyes naturally perceive the real world. Which raises the question, "Will this new image-capture format and the accompanying 10-second duration spawn yet another video grammar revolution?" It's way too early to tell, but if Spectacles are treated more like a Snapchat extension and less like a toy, it won't be long before music videos and TV commercials start mimicking or simply using them.

The Singularity Isn't That Near
Google Glass failed for so many reasons (not the least of which was its $2,000-ish price point), it is impossible to make real comparisons here. But one overwhelming issue with Glass will also be an overwhelming issue with Spectacles. Lots of normal people are going to feel they invade their privacy. While 2040 is the median accepted date for Ray Kurzweil supplicants who believe that humans and machines will evolve into transhumans, most people are just going to be bugged that someone has the ability to make an unfortunate video of them without their knowledge or consent.

There's really no way around this. Some objections will be cultural, others will be behavioral, but either way, general acceptance of pseudo-transhuman-camera-people is going to be a heavy lift.

Kudos to Snap Inc.
Evan Spiegel is a product designer's product designer. And his attitude about getting Spectacles to market quickly "because it's fun" should be an object lesson for every CEO. Kudos to the entire team at Snap Inc. Oh, and BTW, I'd like to order 50 pairs to give out as holiday gifts.

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