Three years ago this week, for the first time, spectacles arrived, using Snapbot color machines that captured Snapchat fans. But early buzzing and largely positive reviews made Snap make too many first generation video sunglasses than it could actually sell, and the company was forced to record costs of nearly $ 40 million.
The second generation arrived last spring with a refreshed, waterproof design and the ability to take still pictures for the first time. But performances 2 didn't spark the halfway motion their predecessors had, the hardware company's vice president withdrew and the ambitions of the Snap device faded into the background.
Shows 3 have now arrived, available exclusively through the Snap Show Online Store. They come with an impressive new design and a much higher price tag ̵
And Performance 3 is a touchstone for the company in another way. Executive Director Evan Spiegel told me in a recent interview. Thanks to a second camera that allows the device to experience depth for the first time, Snap can now integrate its software into the real world using special filters that map the world captured in a video.
"What really excites this version is that since V3 has depth, we are actually beginning to understand the world around you," Spiegel said. "So these augmented reality effects aren't just a 2D layer. It actually integrates calculations in the world around you. And that's where the real turning point is for me. ”
Spiegel plays a long game. He often says that AR glasses are unlikely to be a major phenomenon for another 10 years – today there are just too many hardware limitations. Available processors are simply moved from mobile phones; the displays are too hungry for power; the batteries run out too quickly.
But he can see a day in which these problems are solved and spectacles become a major way of interacting with the world. Spiegel says the glasses will be a pillar of the company over the next decade, along with Snapchat and Lens Studio, the company's tool for building AR effects.
"I think this is the first time we've gathered all the pieces of our business and really showed the power of creating these AR experiences at Lens Studio and deploying them through Spectacles," Spiegel said. "And to me, it's the bridge to the world of computing."
Last week I spent some time with Spectacles 3 to see how that bridge approaches.
] As with many products, first impressions count for many and I expect the new Spectacle design to be polarizing. I strongly suspect that I am not the target audience for Spectacles 3, but in any case I have never felt completely alone when I included them. Part of it was that big steel rod running through my nose that I felt gave me a vague affect. And part of it was that thin steel frame that consistently stuck into my ears and scalp. The black and mineral colors are elegant, but for the most part I lacked the toy, but comfortable, plastic of the first two generations.
Then, I put the cameras through their paces. Image quality is sharp, at least when viewing photos on a phone: photos are stored at a resolution of 1642 x 1642 pixels, and video clips are recorded at 60 frames per second and stored at a resolution of 1,216 x 1,216. There are four microphones built into Spectacles 3, and the audio fidelity of the videos I recorded sounded good.
The company says you can shoot 70 videos or 200 plus one-shot shots, which should be enough to guide you through most day-to-day outdoor activities. To refill goggles 3, store them in an attractive folding leather wallet. (An elegant wallet may actually be my favorite part of the whole product.) Full charging takes 75 minutes and the case itself is charged via USB-C.
Eyeglasses change the normal image capture user interface: press either of the two camera buttons to record a 10 second video, or press and hold to capture a 3D photo . As with previous generations, you can tap the button again to add 10 seconds to your video, up to a total of 60 seconds.
The marquee function of Spectacles 3 is a new type of Snapchat filter that takes advantage of the perception of depth of glasses to create a new category of 3D effects. There are 10 of these depth perception effects available at launch – adding disc lights that bend when they hit your body; big red hearts that appear as you move through them, etc.
Unfortunately, however, you cannot see these effects while shooting video. The actual process is as follows:
- Video recording.
- Open Snapchat.
- Import the click from your glasses into Snapchat, where it is stored in Memories.
- Select a photo from Memories.
- Tap "edit click".
- Wait for the click to send to the image processing cloud and then download again to your phone.
- Begin swiping your finger to apply 3D filters to your click.
In practice, it can only take about a minute. But I found that image processing can take a lot more time when I was away from Wi-Fi, as I suspect many Spectacles 3 users can be when playing with their new glasses. Delays like this can discourage the kind of artistic experimentation that Snap has put at the center of its marketing campaign for Spectacles 3.
I also found the original set of depth filters mostly undermining. Some applied color effects to my videos in a way that makes the video look grainy and unattractive. Others are not very different from ordinary old filters – it turns out that deep-sensed candies look a lot like non-deep-candy.
I also found some annoying bugs. Sometimes, after sending the click to the cloud and back to image processing, two of the filters included just didn't work. I moved to the filter and it had no effect on my photos at all.
One last dissatisfaction with the integration of Spectacles with Snapchat: photos taken with Spectacles are not yet automatically transferred to your Snapchat account. Instead, connect to your phone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and transfer them manually. In my experience, this has made me less and less aware of Shows over time. (If you are at home, on Wi-Fi, and your glasses are charging. The glasses can be adjusted to export snaps in Snapchat automatically, but there is no way to do so while wearing or using them. )
The Spectacles 3 package also comes with 3D Viewer, a cardboard tool for viewing 3D photos that you take with your glasses. (This is the same basic product as Google Cardboard, which Google simply terminated for lack of interest.) Assemble the Viewer, put your phone in it, and Snapchat enters a special viewing mode for photos. I liked viewing 3D photos in the Viewer – press a cardboard swipe button to scroll through them, and the photos rotate slightly as you move your head. For me the viewer felt more like a novelty than a major part of the Spectacles product, but I can see how artists can find better use for 3D shots. Taken together, the advances in Spectacles 3 are a significant improvement over what came before – without making a complete case for itself as a major creative tool. There is a great deal of novelty in the product, but I am afraid that, as with the previous two generations, this innovation will fade quickly.
And that matters, since the last generation of glasses is more than twice as expensive as the previous one. Snap's best hope here is that its community of AR developers, who have proven themselves adept at building compelling filters and lenses, make better use of the new Spectacles second camera than the first batch of filters.
And Spiegel dreams much more than that. I asked if some day messages could be sent from Spectacles to Spectacles, which would make the product as immediate as Snapchat itself. He told me he was already testing.
"This is something we are actively experimenting with and playing with," Spiegel said. "And I think it's really fun to see the world in someone else's perspective, in 3D."
Of course, Snap is far from alone in working on AR glasses. Apple, Facebook and Microsoft are among the companies with versions in the works. Of these, however, Snap is the only company currently selling to consumers. (Microsoft's $ 3,500 HoloLens is not in the same conversation.)
This means that its failures are receiving more attention. I asked Spiegel what Snap got in return for all the pressure from building in public. He said receiving direct customer feedback helped Snap iterate faster in its design.
"If you compare version 1 of the glasses with the third version, it's like night and day in terms of product quality," Spiegel said. "So to see that evolution in such a short period of time tells me that if we just keep doing this, after 10 years, I think we will be able to deliver ultra-precision and high quality products. And this is something we will just have to learn, and it is expensive and time consuming. But I think in the long run it will pay off. ”
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