As long as mobile phones remain our primary computing devices, the balance of power between social networks seems unlikely to shift too much in any direction. New devices have now been in development for several years, but so far nobody has been able to deliver something akin to an iPod: a relatively cheap, beautifully designed, and dramatically useful new gadget that points the way forward. The company that invents a product like that could dominate the next generation of computing the way Apple, Google, and Facebook have dominated the current one.
Snap may have gotten the closest. Spectacles, the company’s toy-like video-recording sunglasses, were the subject of intense buzz when they debuted in 2017. And while other companies work on their own version of augmented reality glasses, Snap continues to do its work in public: releasing a sequel to Spectacles last spring, and version 3 today.
Now Spectacles 3
have arrived, available exclusively through Snap’s online Spectacles store. They come with a striking new design and a much higher price — $380, up from $150 to $200 for the previous edition. (Spectacles 2 remain on sale.) Snap says the changes reflect its intended audience for the new Spectacles: fans of high fashion and artists who relish new creative tools. It’s also a way of avoiding another big writedown: measuring demand carefully with a single online storefront, then selling each unit at a price that lets the company recoup a bigger share of its investment.
And Spectacles 3 are a milestone for the company in another way, too, CEO Evan Spiegel told me in a recent interview. Thanks to a second camera that lets the device perceive depth for the first time, Snap can now integrate its software into the real world using special filters that map to the world captured in a video.
“What’s really exciting about this version is that, because V3 has depth, we’re starting to actually understand the world around you,” Spiegel said. “So those augmented reality effects are not just a 2D layer. It actually integrates computing into the world around you. And that is where, to me, the real turning point is.”
Spiegel is playing a long game. He often says that AR glasses are unlikely to be a mainstream phenomenon for another 10 years — there are simply too many hardware limitations today. The available processors are basically just repurposed from mobile phones; displays are too power hungry; batteries drain too quickly.
But he can see a day where those problems are solved, and Spectacles becomes a primary way of interacting with the world. Spiegel says the glasses will be a pillar of the company over the next decade, along with Snapchat and Lens Studio
, the company’s tool for building AR effects.
“I do think this is the first time that we’ve brought all the pieces of our business together, and really shown the power of creating these AR experiences in Lens Studio and deploying them through Spectacles,” Spiegel said. “And to me, that is the bridge to computing overlaid on the world.”
Later in the piece, I describe how that vision hasn’t translated all the way to reality. The computing is only overlaid on the world after the fact, when you download the snaps onto your phone and edit effects into them. It’s a cumbersome process, and combined with the new glasses’ $380 price tag, it’s hard for me to imagine Spectacles 3 becoming a bestseller.
But Spiegel himself acknowledges in that excerpt that mass-market AR glasses could be a decade away. He’s an underrated product thinker — and, thanks to a better-than-expected year for Snap
, an increasingly confident CEO. When he talks about AR glasses, he makes them seem inevitable in a way that his peers struggle to do — while also being realistic about the current state of the art.
Here’s one snippet that didn’t make it into the final piece. I was complaining that I had abandoned my previous Spectacles because of the friction involved in transferring snaps from the glasses to the phone. Spiegel’s response contextualized the product for me — and the road ahead for Snap — in a whole new way:
Evan Spiegel: The way that I would think about it is in terms of the way that cameras overall have evolved over time. So if you look at the [usage of] early cameras, it was very much event-based, right? Event-based maybe even in the sense of like, once in your life, right? And then eventually that became like, during holidays. And then only in the last 10 years has it become, all day every day I use my camera. So I think that’s a very radical transition.
Spectacles, because they’re a new type of camera, they’re still event-based in terms of usage. You go on a really cool trip, you’re playing with your kids, whatever it is — and you want to represent that moment in a totally new way, from your perspective in 3D. So for now, I do think it’s going to continue to be an event-based product. But what’s really exciting is that over time, we’ve seen the capacity for these cameras to evolve from event-based products to products that are used all day long. So, I think we’re just on that journey with Spectacles. And we’re fortunate that we can continue to invest along that path to get there.