With Spectacles, Snap Inc. eyes augmented reality future, raw reality present


Snap Inc.’s freshly unveiled video-recording glasses, Spectacles, are like a pair of bifocals for the future of the company that owns but is no longer limited to Snapchat. The face-cameras appear to bring into focus how Snap Inc. is preparing for the future while also trying to secure its present opportunity.

Future-wise, it’s easy enough to squint and picture an eventual edition of Spectacles that feature augmented reality lenses. The glasses’ cameras would be able to take in a scene and use object-recognition technology to detect things in view and change them, an evolution of what Snapchat’s facial-recognition technology already does with lenses. People could share these augmented images to Snapchat, like they already do, but they could also be projected onto Spectacle’s physical lenses, fulfilling the promise of Google’s Goggles, Yelp’s Monocle and Magic Leap’s teaser videos.

Switching to the present perspective, the initial version of Spectacles seems to serve the opposite purpose. They’re not about augmenting reality, but capturing it.

When Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel talked about using Spectacles to film his vacation in Big Sur, he didn’t talk up the potential to use the glasses to measure the height of a tree he was looking at or to constantly assess what was in view and automatically take the best photo or video. He talked up the rawness of what the glasses recorded.

“I could see my own memory, through my own eyes—it was unbelievable,” Spiegel told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s one thing to see images of an experience you had, but it’s another thing to have an experience of the experience. It was the closest I’d ever come to feeling like I was there again.”

Snap Inc’s original product, Snapchat, caught on because it captured reality closer than its competitors, though Facebook is trying with Live, Twitter with Periscope and Instagram with Stories. If people put forth their best selves on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Snapchat was for the side of themselves that was harder to find elsewhere: the real them.

As much as the ability to put a mask on your face or otherwise edit your posts with filters and illustrations has helped to popularize Snapchat, it has also changed it by leading people to spend more time considering what they post, giving them opportunities to obscure the raw reality.

Coinciding if not correlating with that development, Snapchat seems to have become more of a place for put-on personas. Maybe it’s just my experience, but lately a higher share of the snaps I see in public Stories are selfies and workout clips and food porn and nature shots. That’s what Instagram is for; Snapchat was for more. You might post your beach days to both Instagram and Snapchat, but Snapchat was also where you shared your sunburns.

Snapchat still is that place but within private chats, meaning what makes Snapchat unique is less apparent to people just now getting into Snapchat. For those people, it might be hard to see the difference between Snapchat and Instagram, especially the more that Instagram makes itself a Snapchat clone. That blurring seems to be exactly what Instagram wants, and it’s a potential problem for Snapchat, one that its new sibling, Spectacles, could help to relieve.

With Spectacles people record what they see in front of them. Same as with their phone cameras. Except they can only record what’s in front of them and can’t necessarily review what they recorded immediately afterward. Recordings will be saved to Snapchat’s Memories section, implying that people will be able to add filters and illustrations to these videos after they’re recorded but before they’re posted.

Maybe Spectacles won’t change much (limited by the fact that the initial “toy” versions will be weird/difficult to use indoors, at night or if you wear prescription lenses but not contacts). They might only mean fewer selfies in people’s Stories and more first-person, GoPro-style perspectives, but the same amount of editing in those Stories.

Or maybe they’ll mean more unfiltered looks at other people’s experiences. Then, whenever the AR versions become available, we don’t only use them to augment our own realities but also to experience others’.

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