You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Snapchat’s Spectacles a Vision Test for CEO Evan Spiegel

Steve Jobs. Mark Zuckerberg. Evan Spiegel.

Maybe that third name hasn’t earned the right yet to be uttered in the same breath as the other two icons. But Snapchat’s CEO is making a case for himself one innovation at a time, and his latest one is a true doozy.

Last week’s surprise launch of Spectacles, a $130 set of sunglasses going to market shortly boasting the capability of capturing and sharing video, brings to mind the kind of audacity and ambition that the CEOs of Apple and Facebook infused into their businesses.

Were it not for how unorthodox the product roadmap the 26-year-old Spiegel has been, what he is attempting with Spectacles would seem foolhardy: a company with zero hardware experience boasting a newfangled style of “circular” video is introducing a product into a category scorched by failure and controversy. Oh, and also Snapchat is rebranding as Snap at the same time.

But because this is all coming from Spiegel, he has to be taken seriously.

Perhaps Spectacles shouldn’t be that surprising. As the furious evolution of the Snapchat platform itself has made abundantly clear, Spiegel is the most innovative visionary in tech since Jobs, with whom he shares not just a willingness to defy conventional wisdom, but open distaste for it. Nothing about Snapchat is cookie-cutter, from its emphasis on Spiegel’s first go at another kind of newfangled video–“vertical”–to a user experience that is practically incomprehensible to anyone over 18, which may explain in part why it’s so sticky to a younger, more coveted audience segment.

It’s going to be exciting to see what circular video, which has an expanded camera angle that mimics the aperture of the human eye, is all about.

Spiegel referred to Spectacles as a “toy” a few times in the Wall Street Journal interview in which he unveiled the product, an understatement that evoked Steve Jobs’ famous pooh-poohing of Apple TV as a mere “hobby.” In both cases, you have CEOs deliberately playing down expectations, hedging against the potential for failure when taking fliers.

If Spiegel was hoping to manage expectations, the decision to conjoin the announcement of Spectacles with the announcement of the company’s new name was a poor one. Twinning these two things in the collective mind of the market establishes his push into hardware as a redefinition of the company.

Spiegel can hedge all he want about Spectacles being a toy, and something that will just be available on a limited basis, but that’s not going to fool anyone who understands the upside Snap could unlock by establishing itself in the device game. If it fails, Spiegel will make this sound like it was just some meaningless side project, but of course it isn’t.

Is it possible that 5-10 years from now that Snapchat will represent only a small piece of what Snap will become as a company? Will Spectacle be the first in a line of products that could redefine Snap as a hardware-first brand? At this early juncture, it sounds almost too far-fetched to comprehend.

Snap’s shift from media to machines brings to mind Zuckerberg’s own aborted flirtation with hardware, when Facebook seriously considered getting into the smartphone business around 2010-2012.

That would have been a far bigger move than Spectacles, but they share a common motive: They’re not about creating just another revenue-generating product extension; they are toeholds toward positioning the company to take greater control of the value chain in which they currently already are a significant part, but don’t own end to end.

It’s way too early for anyone at Apple or Samsung to quake in their boots yet, but privacy is another issue Spectacles where will be sure to raise concerns. Though the video is confined to capturing far less than a minute at a time, and a light on the frames clearly indicates when something is being recorded, there’s a very real prospect Spectacles can evolve–or devolve–into a more powerful product that will be disruptive to say the least.

This is probably something Google didn’t fully understand when its own lenses, Glass, attempted to make its mark on the nascent wearables market just a few years ago. Spectacle is such a daring play for Snapchat because of the crater-sized hole Google left when Glass tanked, a gap yet to be filled by other products.

Glass being stuck in some vague sense of retrenchment ever since sent a clear warning to the marketplace: Wearables is a tough nut to crack. Google failed so dramatically with Glass that it’s little wonder no other tech giant has mustered the nerve to go big here.

But Spiegel has the courage to realize the failure of Glass didn’t mean optic wearables was a dead end for everyone.

Of course, Spectacles doesn’t represent a pivot for Snap, which remains firmly planted in media soil. But it’s worth wondering whether on some level this departure from the core product was a move Spiegel felt Snapchat had to make, one that may have helped better pave the road to where the company is inevitably going: an initial public offering. Is it conceivable that a company as successful as Snapchat felt insecure about having all its eggs in the fragile basket that is the turbulent social media world? Did it need to demonstrate to Wall Street its ability to diversify its product base despite the fact its core product is as phenomenally successful as it is?

Because if Spectacles wasn’t actually something intended to help along the company’s IPO, maybe it would have been better off a post-IPO project. Because if Spectacles fails, it’s a knock against Snap, raising the possibility that for all his success, maybe Spiegel doesn’t have Jobs’ product genius or Zuckerberg’s ability to diversify into other ventures, from Whatsapp to Oculus. Like it or not, Spiegel just put himself to the test.

More Digital

  • APOS: Applause Sets up India Adaptation of

    APOS: Applause Sets up India Adaptation of BBC's 'Luther' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Indian content producer Applause Entertainment will produce a local version of hit BBC crime drama “Luther.” With “Luther,” Applause will continue its business model of assuming the risk of producing shows, and later offering them to OTT platforms as finished works. Starring Idris Elba, “Luther” is now five seasons old. The Indian adaptation will be [...]

  • Globe Centred On Asia And Oceania,

    APOS: Online Video Headed for 15% Annual Growth, Disrupting Asia Markets

    A blistering 15% annual growth of online video will give the Asian video industry (TV, pay-TV, home entertainment and streaming) a growth rate nearly double that of North America for the next five years. According to a new report from Media Partners Asia, published on the eve of the APOS conference in Indonesia, Asia’s online [...]

  • philo

    Philo Is Discontinuing Its Cheaper Internet-TV Skinny Bundle for New Customers

    The skinniest virtual pay-TV offering available is going by the wayside. Philo, the over-the-top TV company backed by four cable programmers, is eliminating its super-skinny bundle that offered more than 40 channels for just $16 per month for new customers. It’s more evidence that OTT players are being forced to adjust their pricing and packaging [...]

  • Samsung's Galaxy Fold Launch Delayed After

    Samsung Officially Delays Galaxy Fold Launch

    Samsung has officially delayed the launch of its much-anticipated foldable phone, the Galaxy Fold, after multiple reviewers experienced issues with the device’s screen. The company said in a statement that it would announce a new release data for the device “in the coming weeks.” The Galaxy Fold had first been unveiled at a press event [...]

  • Variety Cord Cutting Placeholder Cable

    Cord Cutting Will Accelerate in 2019, Skinny Bundles Poised to Fail (Report)

    The pace of cord cutting is continuing to accelerate this year, according to a new Convergence Research Group report, with 4.56 million TV households opting to ditch pay TV. By the end of the year, 34% of U.S. households won’t have a traditional TV subscription, according to the research company’s latest “Battle for the American [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content