Snapchat Spectacles: Wearable Camera or Smart Glasses?

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Snapchat, maker of the popular photo and video messaging platform, has announced a new wearable product called Spectacles. The product looks like a pair of sunglasses, with cameras embedded in the frame to capture short 10-second or 30-second video clips. The videos are captured in a circular format, rather than the traditional rectangular format, using a 115-degree wide-angle lens, similar to what human eyes can see. The clips can be shared through the Snapchat application on a smartphone with the videos transferred via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Spectacles are expected to become available in the fall in limited quantities and will cost $130.

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(Source: Snapchat)

Initial Thoughts on Spectacles

A recent Tractica report titled Wearable Cameras highlighted: “Tractica believes that there will always be demand for alternative ‘moment capture’ devices like the wearable camera, that are separate from the smartphone.”

Are Spectacles smart glasses or a wearable camera? Based on the fact that their primary purpose is capturing images, Spectacles are a wearable camera, rather than smart glasses. Spectacles, with their bright colors and catchy design, are targeted at millennials, especially those who are already using Snapchat (150 million users) and Instagram (500 million users).

But let’s not forget about the GoPro and other action camera enthusiasts, who are already familiar with capturing hands-free moments. The wearable camera market is expanding beyond GoPro, with a lot of experimentation and innovation. Chinese manufacturers like Xiaoyi (Xiaomi) are pushing quality at a lower cost, mobile network operator EE is leveraging its 4G network with a lifelogging camera, and Japanese camera manufacturer Nikon is trying to reinvent itself with a 360-degree action camera with virtual reality (VR) capabilities.

Snapchat is releasing limited quantities, which should be viewed as an experiment, and not a major product launch. The main value proposition of Snapchat is the temporary nature of images and videos that self-destruct after being viewed, so Spectacles might just avoid the privacy issues that plagued Google Glass. Rather than predict whether Spectacles will be a hit or a miss, it is much more valuable to look at some of the user experience innovations like wide-angle capture and circular video format that could become mainstream trends in a few years.

The bottom line is that Snapchat is using Spectacles as a branding and marketing tool, but goes one step further by placing a bet on moment capture devices that are separate from the smartphone. Expect Apple, Google, Samsung, Facebook, and traditional camera manufacturers to watch this space very closely, and do their own experimentation. Just like traditional watchmakers have embraced the smart watch trend, traditional eyewear manufacturers could start to partner and produce their own wearable camera-based eyewear ranges.

What Can We Expect in the Future?

According to a recent news release published by Tractica: “New exciting technologies like 360 vision, virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning, and computer vision will enhance the wearable camera experience, expanding the devices’ use cases and applications.”

As suggested in Tractica’s Wearable Cameras report, this is an exciting time for wearable cameras and we see a perfect storm of technology advancements on the horizon. Augmented reality (AR) is another area that is likely to bring exciting new use cases to the eyewear space as applications like Pokémon Go take off. Snapchat has kept the features fairly limited, possibly a reflection of its “quick and easy to use” value proposition. While Apple has been pushing boundaries around the smartphone camera in the iPhone 7, and with neural networks being embedded into smartphone cameras, there is a lot more innovation coming down the pipeline for wearable cameras at the higher end. Spectacles prove that wearable cameras are growing beyond action cameras like GoPro and that there is a lot more to come in this space.

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