Snap continues to forge ahead with its line of techy camera glasses despite previous generations largely proving unprofitable and/or unpopular. But hey, fourth time’s the charm, right? On Thursday, Snap announced its newest Spectacles smart glasses with built-in AR displays, but don’t expect to get your hands on them anytime soon — they’re not for sale.
More on that in a second. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel debuted the company’s first true augmented reality glasses on Thursday, which come with dual 3D waveguide displays capable of overlaying digital AR effects on the world around you. A demo posted to Twitter shows Spiegel playing fetch with a virtual dog and watching virtual butterflies flutter about, with one landing on his outstretched hand. You can snap videos of moments like this and send them to friends with the click of a button, he said.
However, Snap’s not quite ready to roll out its fourth-generation Spectacles to the general public yet. For one, the battery only lasts 30 minutes. So Snap’s only giving its glasses to an undisclosed number of creators “looking to push the limits of immersive AR experiences” after they’re vetted through its online application process. The hope is that a portion of the 200,000 users already creating AR effects with Snapchat’s software tools will experiment with the new tech and generate hype for its eventual launch, Spiegel told the Verge.
As for its specs (pun intended), the Spectacles feature a built-in touchpad, two RGB cameras, and four built-in microphones. It includes several buttons for controls, but users can also say “Hey Snapchat” to provide audio commands.
Its dual waveguide displays boast a diagonal field of view of 26.3 degrees and 15 millisecond motion to photo latency. The Spectacles have a significantly narrower than other AR headsets like the HoloLens 2 and Magic Leap One, which come in at 52 degrees and 50 degrees respectively. That being said, with its displays capable of shining up to 2000 nits of brightness, the frames seem much better equipped to handle the sunny outdoors than their competitors.
In an interview with the Verge, Spiegel posited that, within a decade or so, AR glasses will be as ubiquitous as smartphones are today.
“I don’t believe the phone is going away,” he told the outlet. “I just think that the next generation of Spectacles can help unlock a new way to use AR hands-free, and the ability to really roam around with your eyes looking up at the horizon, out at the world.”
Before that happens though, Snap will need to figure out how to get consumers interested in its AR smart glasses, especially with tech giants like Facebook and Apple reportedly planning to roll out their own versions soon. Snap’s first-generation Spectacles purportedly cost the company $US40 ($51) million in unsold inventory, with “hundreds of thousands” of pairs left to gather dust in warehouses. Spiegel didn’t talk prices for its fourth-gen Spectacles on Thursday, but hopefully, Snap will ditch the steep upward trend it’s been on with the line’s predecessors. The original Spectacles went for $US150 ($192), the Spectacles 2 for $US200 ($257), and the third-gen for a whopping $US380 ($487). Sure, AR lenses are cool to play around with, but I think Snap would learn real quick that a $US400+ ($513)+ price tag for “cool” isn’t much of a sales pitch.