Why the New Snap Spectacles Matter

Don’t look now, but the next computing platform is coming. It won’t be a phone, or a laptop, or a miniputer you wear on your wrist. It will be a pair of glasses that upend the way you communicate, find information, and view the world around you.

Want a glimpse of that future? Take a look through Snap’s Spectacles.

Hold up. Spectacles? The camera-enabled sunglasses that received a dim reception when Snap released the first pair in 2016? Sure, they’re specifically part of Snap’s future and the self-professed camera company’s survival in the coming battle against Facebook, Apple, Google, and all the other companies vying for the real estate on your face. But this is more than a hardware lark or a gimmick to get people to post more content on Snapchat. In introducing the sequel to Spectacles, Snap is sending a message: These glasses aren’t just our future. They’re your future too.

OK, maybe not Spectacles specifically, at least not in their current form. Spectacles 2.0 fall into the same pitfalls as Spectacles 1.0: fun to use, but non-essential. They’re also tethered, for now, to the Snapchat platform. You have to open the app to retrieve your footage, and everything you capture shows up in a weird, circular format that only really looks good on Snapchat. But Snap doesn’t need Spectacles to be an essential, life-changing tool—not yet. The company needs to practice making hardware so it will be ready for when this technology really matters.

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The race to make the first great pair of face-puters has already begun, with all the big tech companies vying for dominance. Whether the tech will be used as an information-gathering tool, like Google Glass, or entertainment devices, like Facebook’s Oculus Rift, remains to be seen. But by a large consensus, they will show up in the form of glasses, giving you hands-free access to an entirely new type of computing. When that revolution arrives, Snap wants to be on the front lines.

Which is why Spectacles are so important. They’re not Magic Leap, but in some ways, they’re even better: a product you can actually wear on your face right now. The fact that their capabilities are so simple—press a button, shoot a video—might make them more palatable than, say, a device that plunges into the deep end with voice controls, augmented reality, and an always-on interface. Spectacles won’t change how you see the world, but they might make the idea of a face wearable a little less insane and prime people for whatever comes next. And the fact that they’re out into the wild makes it easier for Snap to understand how to design a product you’re supposed to wear on your head all the time. (It’s not easy!) The company says it completely redesigned the second version based on feedback from the first—it replaced the guts with a smaller battery and a better image processor, and slimmed down the hardware so that it feels lighter on your face. The next version, which Snap is reportedly already working on, should be even better.

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