Snapchat Sees What Facebook, Google and Apple Missed

Snapchat Spectacles are a hit, especially compared to Google Glass. Guess what: Wearable cameras are back.

Gemsense founder and products VP Jonathan Schipper, in Snapchat Spectacles, December 2016.'The idea was not to be creepy.'
Moti Milrod

When Google revealed its Google Glass in 2013, the world swooned. The optical head-mounted display shaped somewhat like eyeglasses looked weird but clearly this was the future.

Three years on, we realize they were evidently a bit too futuristic. But now there’s a new player on the board: Snapchat Spectacles.

In contrast to Google, the parent company, Snap, decided to make a product that was a little less smart, and to market it a lot more cleverly.
The Google product was too smart for its own good. All the Spectacles do is take short video clips, 30 seconds at max, and upload them to the Snapchat app on your phone.

The device has none of the computing power or additional apps that Google Glass boasted, which a few geeks might bemoan but which has the rest of the world feeling rather relieved.

The key problem with Google Glass hadn’t been among users but among everybody else.

People figure they’ll know when you’re taking their picture or even filming them with a smartphone, as you have to aim a device at them. But if you’re filming them just by looking towards them, they can’t know, which is a kind of creepy feeling.

Just as bad, as the glasses were smart, had computing power and could connect to applications. So the vibe (if not necessarily the reality) was that your image could be identified, disseminated, uploaded to the cloud, manipulated or heaven-knows-what. And all this is being done to them by a person who looks like a cyborg.

Snapchat Spectacles does retain a key creepy feature that Google Glass had, too. You still won’t know when somebody’s taking your picture in the street unless you notice that the camera-on LEDs on the glasses are flashing.

The Snapchat Spectacles look like stylish glasses. They don’t make you look like a cyborg.

“They didn’t go for the technological aspect at all. The idea was not to be creepy. They just wanted to give kids sunglasses with a camera, in order to boost the interaction with their app,” says Jonathan Schipper, founder and products VP at Gemsense.

In his case, the company achieved its goal. He’d barely used Snapchat before he got Spectacles and now uploads all the time, from his trip on a scooter to the first minutes of meeting with a friend or a vignette with the kid.

Click and film, without okay Google or any other messing around.
Schipper is an early adapter, if not the first. He brought two pairs of Spectacles to Israel, the second for Hillel Fuld, marketing manager at Zcast.

The Snapchat Spectacles.
Moti Milrod

Both Schipper and Fuld are over 25, so adjusting to the app and new technology – the glasses see and film exactly what you see – took some doing.

At first he thought, “WTF is Snapchat,” Fuld admits – for one thing, he couldn’t stand its interface, but ultimately he forced himself, mainly because Snapchat and its meteoric rise were something that could not be ignored.

The company is preparing for a public offering at a company value of up to $25 billion. Even Google has invested. In June, Snapchat passed Twitter in number of daily users, reaching 150 million compared with Twitter’s 140 million.

Crucially, it has won over the young. Paul Sweeney, head of North America research for Bloomberg Intelligence, recently remarked that 60% of Snapchat’s users are under 34 and according to Statista, young people say it’s their most important social media. 

Last year, 24 percent of American youngsters defined it as their most important network, closely followed by Instagram with 23 percent. This year, the figure has risen to 35 percent while Instagram rose to 24 percent.
What are oldsters like Fuld and Schipper doing there?

“Everything I upload to Facebook I think about a lot,” says Schipper. “I know everyone will look at it and it will remain there forever the idea with Snapchat is that I upload whatever I see now, and it doesn’t stay for everyone to see for life... I chose for my information to remain for 24 hours – this is who I am, now, and it isn’t who I will be tomorrow or in a year.”

Suddenly Facebook looks lumbering, dated, Fuld says. “I go through everything in my feed pretty fast. With Snapchat you can’t keep up. The thing is, these are short things, brief attractions. It’s new and refreshing in my mind, though maybe for the young it isn’t that new.”

If he wants more information beyond a clip and picture, he can get in touch with the poster, he points out.

He also gets greater engagement on Snapchat than on Facebook plus Twitter plus Instagram altogether, Fuld says.

Snapchat actually rethought what people want online, and the Spectacles are a bold step nobody foresaw, not only because a young software company suddenly leaped into hardware.

While developing the product, they decided to change the rules of video format and find a way to resolve a long-standing complaint among users: Vertical video syndrome (a snarky name for the fact that some people seem categorically unable to shoot video film in anything other than portrait mode, even “when common sense dictates the device should be turned on its side to film in landscape mode.”

With the Specs and the Snapshot app, however you hold your phone – the viewing experience remains good.

In short, the video clip will adapt itself to the angle at which you’re holding your phone. It’s very much like 360-degree VR filming, especially when the camera is moving around.

But the real success is that in contrast to Google Glass, these things are a hit, mainly thanks to Snapchat’s brilliant campaign. It didn’t open stores or start selling the things through Amazon. It created a popup campaign, placing vending machines here and there, designed not entirely unlike the Minions.

It announces the location of the machines only shortly before their arrival, limits any purchase to two pairs and thus has created a supply crunch out of nothing: the faithful stampede. It isn’t rare for somebody on line to buy the two pairs and sell the other to somebody else on line. Or on eBay.

“When was the last time you saw a queue a kilometer and a half long for something that isn’t Apple?” Fuld says.

“People wait three, six, 18 hours on line,” Schipper says. 

He tried to bribe somebody to wait on line in his stead, offering as much as $200. Nobody would bite.