Will Snap(chat) Be For Cameras What Google Is For Search, And Facebook Is For Communications?

12/10/2016 12:09

Despite some high-profile releases, nothing so far has convinced mainstream consumers to embrace the benefits of wearable tech. And after the relatively lacklustre performance of Google Glass - which prompted criticisms about its price-tag, its aesthetics, its privacy credentials and, well, pretty much everything else that commentators could think to throw at it - we've become a lot more cautious about predicting the imminent arrival of the wearable revolution.

It's in this context that the announcement by Snapchat (or Snap, as it's henceforth to be known) is so interesting. Although the owner of the coolest social app on-the-block had long been rumoured to be working on a pair of wearable glasses, there were few details available and little expectation that it would be arriving any time soon. Following a leak of some of its details, however, Snap has now rushed out an announcement that its new Spectacles will be available to buy some time this Autumn. As part of this, we've been treated to a series of photos of the company's founder, Evan Spiegel, modelling the new sunglasses and doing his best to convince people that the new creation is a million miles away from Google Glass.

So, with 2015 and 2016 having both been incorrectly touted as the year of the Wearable Revolution by some commentators, is it now safe to place your bets on 2017 being the one when Snap will finally manage to stimulate widespread acceptance and usage for this tech?

At face value, there's much to suggest that it will - especially as it appears to have followed a completely opposite path to Google Glass. Firstly, there's the price. All but the wealthiest tech-lovers were prevented from engaging with Google Glass because it cost so much. In Google's defence, it always said the first editions were prototypes designed for a limited release, and there was a general acceptance that later consumer-facing versions would need to be cheaper. Clearly, though, there was no chance that Google's product would ever get near to the $130 price-tag of Snap's Spectacles and, as a result, it always suffered from a slightly elitist image problem. The now-famous Glasshole tag became so popular because wearers had been specially selected by Google and/or had spent a lot of money on the product (which they were then very visibly parading in front of people). Google Glass was a case of us versus them, and such divisions never benefit the reputation of the product in question. Snap's aggressive pricing puts its Spectacles in the same price-bracket as other fashionable sunglasses (and actually makes them cheaper than some of the leading brands). If Spectacles don't succeed, we can't therefore blame the price-tag.

Next up, there's the privacy concerns that so battered Google Glass' image. People didn't know whether or not they were being filmed by a Glass wearer, something which inevitably led to both the wearer themselves as well as those nearby feeling rather uncomfortable. Snap has gone a long way to addressing this, with a prominent light on the front which is illuminated every time the camera is filming. While some people might still be uneasy about being filmed, at least they're now being given fair warning. Once again, then, if Spectacles fail to capture our imagination then we can't attribute too much blame to this issue.

But arguably the biggest trump card for Spectacles is that they have a much better reason for being than Google Glass ever did. The latter might have been quite good at doing lots of things, but few of them felt essential and even fewer were better than the equivalent function on a mobile phone. In stark contrast, Spectacles enter the scene with just one purpose - to record videos which last up to 30 seconds in length and which are then transmitted via Wifi or Bluetooth to your Snapchat's Memories section. By deploying a 115-degree lens, Snap says it captures content as the user sees it and, as Speigel himself gushed, "'When I got the footage back and watched it, I could see my own memory, through my own eyes -- it was unbelievable."

At the heart of this lies arguably the biggest difference between Google Glass and Spectacles. Google Glass was trying to be better than a mobile phone, and to convince people that it could be a replacement. In contrast, Spectacles are being pitched as a fun, affordable and stylish way to capture some cool video content. Crucially, Snap's not saying it will be better than a mobile phone; rather, it's something that Snapchat users might naturally want in addition to their smartphone. After all, it doesn't take long to think of several occasions where you'd prefer to use a mobile camera rather than a pair of sunglasses (at a concert, taking a selfie, getting close-up to something, any time you're inside...).

It's here where Snap is absolutely on-trend. Although its user-base is beginning to get older as non-Millennials embrace it for the first time, its key demographic is still very young. They're the smartphone generation who have embraced video with considerable enthusiasm. Indeed, according to our research, almost 6 in 10 internet users are now uploading videos each month, and that rises to over two thirds among Millennials. And from Facebook Live to Twitter's Periscope, it's clear that networkers love watching and consuming video content, as well as making it. The majority of Facebook users are already watching videos on the network, for example, making it one of the top actions that we track on the site. Essentially, Snap's Spectacles are responding to current trends and behaviours, whereas Google Glass was trying to create new ones.

Of course, Spectacles still have their fair share of challenges to overcome. Early perceptions will be crucial to their success, and the company would do well to get some of its high-profile celebrity users and influencers to be early advocates. Battery lives - promised to last a day - will also need to stand up to the test, and with Spectacles available in just three colours at their launch, more work will need to be done on the aesthetics and ranges. Even so, Snap is probably better positioned to kick-start the wearable revolution than any name before it, boasting the right demographic, the right user-case and the right price-point.

What's more, even if it doesn't achieve widespread success straight away, future versions could well tap into the popularity of augmented reality and, at the very least, this is a clear sign of the direction in which Snapchat wants to head. With so many other networks having imitated its best features in recent quarters, there's very little left in the social space that any one network can claim as being uniquely theirs. By pushing itself more into the camera and video area, Snap has territory which it could make its own and which is very much in line with how consumer behaviours are evolving. Soon, Snap could be for cameras what Google is for search and Facebook is for communication. And that's a pretty good re-invention for a company which first gained fame as a self-destructing picture app for American teens.