Snap’s Spectacles—goofy-looking smart glasses with a camera inside—were widely considered an embarrassing flop. After a wave of initial hype, the company built far more of them than it could sell, and it disclosed in its last earnings report that it had taken a $40 million hit on the product.
Any normal company would take this as a clear sign to stop making such a product. But Snap has never been a normal company. Cheddar reported Friday, citing anonymous sources inside the company, that Snap is in fact preparing not one but two new versions of Spectacles for future release, with at least one of those expected to go on sale sometime this fall. At the same time, the company is reportedly looking to license its camera technology to traditional eyeglass-makers, such as Warby Parker and Luxottica. Here’s the full report from Cheddar’s Alex Heath.
If his sources are right, this is a confounding move by a company that’s working without a lot of margin for error right now. (The Cheddar scoop comes on the same day that Bloomberg’s Sarah Frier reported Snap is struggling with low morale and management problems and skipped employee bonuses this year.) While segments of the tech press foamed at the first Spectacles, most people were skeptical of the smart glasses concept, which Google had famously flubbed just a few years earlier. Spectacles’ failure seemed to confirm that the skeptics were right.
But it seems that’s not the message that CEO Evan Spiegel heard. If that’s true, his bullheaded pursuit of Spectacles would seem deeply misguided. Yet it would also be perfectly in keeping with the stubbornness and counterintuitive thinking that has characterized Snap from the outset.
I’ve written in the past about how Spiegel values creative vision over data-driven decision-making. He made messages disappear when the conventional wisdom was that social media companies had to collect and preserve as much data as possible on their users. He held Snapchat when everyone in their right mind was advising him to sell to Facebook. He built Spectacles despite the prevailing view that Google Glass proved the public doesn’t want smart glasses. Snapchat is sticking to its deeply unpopular redesign in the face of a user revolt. Build more Spectacles after the first ones went unsold? Sure, why not!
The best case I can imagine in Spiegel’s defense would be that camera-equipped glasses are still a viable concept, and the failures of Glass and Spectacles 1.0 were just a matter of execution and timing. As much as people hate the idea of walking around with a computer on their face, there really are situations in which a hands-free, first-person camera can be useful: Just look at all the people who have bought GoPros and other action cameras.
While Glass failed in a way that probably ruined any future hope for that particular brand in the consumer marketplace, at least Spectacles weren’t deeply uncool. People just didn’t see much of a need for them. (They were also buggy and sported a design that hovered somewhere between self-consciously quirky and just plain ugly.) Snap’s best hope might be that putting its cameras in glasses from the likes of Warby Parker will help them find a market after all. I wouldn’t bet on it, of course. But then, I wouldn’t have bet on most of the other things Snap has done, either.