Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc., calls itself a camera company — one that’s bent on “reinventing the camera.” That premise will now get its first big test right before its much-anticipated IPO: Snap’s video-enabled sunglasses, called Spectacles, will be available starting Monday to purchase across the U.S.
The specs, which cost $130 (plus tax), are designed for Snapchat users to capture and upload 10-second clips to the social service. The videos are in a circular format, instead of the rectangular dimensions that cameras have always had, which is intended to more closely match the way people actually see, according to Snap.
Snap slow-rolled the introduction of Spectacles starting last fall through vending machines that appeared in different U.S. cities without advance warning, as well as a pop-up store in midtown Manhattan. The limited-release strategy was apparently to gauge demand while ramping up production — and creating an aura of exclusivity at the same time. Through the end of 2016, the video glass had not generated any significant revenue, according to Snap’s IPO filing.
Now users in the U.S. can buy the devices directly on Spectacles.com, picking from among three colors (black, teal and coral), with 2-4 weeks for shipping. Timed to the ecommerce launch, the New York City pop-up story closed on Feb. 19 (as previously announced). However, the company says the yellow Snapbot vending machines will continue to land in “surprising locations” around the U.S. following a brief hiatus.
But is CEO Evan Spiegel’s aim to make Spectacles a major revenue stream? Snapchat had 69 million daily active users in December 2016, so if even just 10% of them fork over $130 for a pair of the video lenses, that’s a $900 million business right there. But the real aim with Spectacles might simply be to feed more Snaps and Stories into the social service’s maw, thereby boosting Snap’s advertising opportunities.
It’s not clear, though, how popular the Snapchat-only video glasses will actually be. Wearable computing devices have certainly not become mainstream, must-have accessories, but Snap is betting the comparatively lightweight and stylish design of the specs will improve its chances.
The devices connect directly to the Snapchat app on smartphones via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Using what the company’s claims one of the smallest wireless video cameras in the world, it captures the short clips with a 115-degree field of view, which is designed to match human visual perspective, according to the company.
The Spectacles feature a ring of lights around the camera lenses, which light up when a user is recording video. The glasses charge in the included case, just like Apple’s recently introduced AirPods wireless earbuds, with battery life designed to support a full day’s use of Snapping.