This article was really making the rounds last night. I was going to post it, then didn’t, but now figure I should. I know most of you aren’t on the media-Twitter hype train like I am. I have nothing going on at work right now so let’s go a little deeper with this one:
“You wanna see it?” he asks, grinning widely. There’s drama in this reveal: I’m about to join an exceedingly small circle of people whom Spiegel has shown the object to. As he lifts the towel, he breaks into a delighted laugh. “Boom!”
Remember the whole “Spiegel is a product guy/Steve Jobs hype” bullshit? Yeah. Jobs used to do shit like this, even in private conference rooms. Walt Mossberg tells stories about it. It’s cute used car salesman bullshit when Jobs did it, when anyone else does it now, post-Jobs it feels tacky to say the least.
Why use a pair of video sunglasses … instead of holding up your smartphone like everyone else? Because, Spiegel says, the images that result are fundamentally different. Spectacles’ camera uses a 115-degree-angle lens, wider than a typical smartphone’s and much closer to the eyes’ natural field of view. The video it records is circular, more like human vision.
So Snapchat, if you haven’t deduced by the headline, has basically made GoPro Google Glass – while simultaneously making neither. A connected camera with a wide FOV and shit image quality that you wear on your face. It has no utility features or a HUD like Glass, and lacks the indestructible build quality of a GoPro. It is still a wide angle connected camera though, that you wear in the most socially intrusive way possible…
He remembers testing a prototype in early 2015 while hiking with his fiancée, supermodel Miranda Kerr. “It was our first vacation, and we went to Big Sur for a day or two. We were walking through the woods, stepping over logs, looking up at the beautiful trees. And when I got the footage back and watched it, I could see my own memory, through my own eyes—it was unbelievable. It’s one thing to see images of an experience you had, but it’s another thing to have an experience of the experience. It was the closest I’d ever come to feeling like I was there again.”
I read this and laughed out loud. How could this not be accomplished the same way with a GoPro? Maybe you couldn’t post to your Snap Story directly with GoPro, but why haven’t they built that functionality in? Periscope lets you broadcast from a GoPro, why not Snap? (Say you could record 10 second clips off the continuous feed from the camera at will).
And more importantly… Why does anyone want to relive an experience through Snapchat? Who literally “sees their own memory” through Snapchat? That’s a scary, ignorant, thought that thoroughly expresses the dumbing down of our culture. It also says a lot about Spiegel – that maybe “as a product guy” he fundamentally doesn’t understand the product he’s building.
I can’t imagine how in a world saturated with images that people don’t understand that photographs and video are their own experience and don’t at all relate to the living perception they are meant to document. On one hand, maybe that’s the point. Snapchat is fleeting: experience is fleeting: physical objects (your digital files are physical objects) are fleeting. On the other hand, it seems counter intuitive and negating of the photographic medium – we take photographs because we want them to last longer than a moment, we take photographs because we embrace the form of compressed space, or video to ruminate on the merits of time in space. Ruminations are temporary, but not fleeing like Snapchat is inherently.
A more interesting thing I’ve heard is that Snapchat is for “visual conversation” – that all the images being taken only matter in that moment because they act in place of words in communication. Seems like a much better descriptor of what Snapchat is good for, but goes completely against the living memory thing.
In Spiegel’s thinking, Snapchat isn’t a social-media company. It’s a camera company. He’s studied the histories of firms like Kodak and Polaroid and how they pitched themselves to the public. “First it was make a photo,” Spiegel says, characterizing the way people would visit a studio akin to the one we’re in now for a formal sitting. “Then it was take a photo,” as portable cameras let people capture casual snapshots. “And finally it became give a photo,” starting with instant Polaroids handed to friends at a party and evolving into smartphone cameras that let you zip your selfie to anyone on the planet.
Back to Spectacles and Snapchat as a product though. It all seems like a desperate move. It’s a ploy to build up Hype with a capital H. The glasses are only $130 and will be made in limited quantity – essentially they’re cheap enough to be within reach of Snap’s target audience (teenagers), and the limited supply will just drive demand. What do they do beyond being a party trick? Or act as a billboard “mug me”? Who actually needs another Bluetooth (or WiFi? whatever) connected device to their phone? Who will actually use this? What I’m getting at is this: Spectacles are a fashion object. There’s no way Snap can win at software innovation now that Instagram Stories (or are they called Moments? Or is Moments a Snap thing? who cares) exist. Snapchat can’t win at the hardware game because literally every phone has a halfway decent camera in it (and making cameras themselves is a losing game the whole way through – i know this especially as I’m writing this from my camera store where I’ve had no customers walk in in the last hour I’ve been open). So they do the most weird/crazy thing and mash these things together with something that looks “fashionable” just for the sake of hype. Hype gets people on the platform as an aspirational move towards the (limited supply) glasses. It’s kinda a brilliant move, but whether or not anyone outside the tech/media cares is going to be a better question.
A lot of this all feels full circle. How do we define visual communication at this point? With what tools do we communicate visually (software/hardware)? Why have we let Silicon Valley and other new media tech firms define the conversation? Etc. You all figure it out for me, I’m going back to work shilling film cameras to even more gullible hypebeasts on eBay.