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The last time I wore glasses with a camera built into them, it was Google Glass. The idea, hype, and eventual demise of Google Glass was spurred on by privacy concerns, lack of true augmented reality capabilities, and just how plain goofy the gadget made users look.
Snap, the company formerly called Snapchat, is looking to create its own path of wearable cameras with Spectacles.
The $129 sunglasses record 10-second video clips, formatted for interactive playback in the Snapchat app. Users can then place stickers, text, or apply filters to the videos, augmenting the overall experience.
Snap's push into augmented reality comes at time when AR - along with virtual reality - is surrounded by curiosity but not widespread adoption. Snapchat and Facebook see their respective social networks blending with VR over time, but thus far each have lacked a catalyst. To date, Pokemon Go is the lone augmented reality app that captured the imaginations of businesses and consumers.
Snap's efforts with its specs could very will be the gadget that pushes augmented reality into consumer and business applications alike.
Spectacles are sunglasses, with a camera on the right side of the frame. On the left side is a button that begins and ends recordings. A ring of lights illuminate when the video camera is activated, letting those around you know a video is being captured.
Another light inside the glasses begins blinking two-seconds before the recording stops, giving the user a chance to extend recording up to 30-seconds with another press of the button.
Spectacles can hold up to 200 videos clips, with an expected battery life of 100 recordings. A charging case holds enough juice to top of Spectacles four times.
Syncing Spectacles with an Android device or iPhone is done through a combination Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
The entire product, from the packaging to the charging cable is playful, yet high quality. It's an impressive feat, considering this is Snap's first hardware product.
It's all about circles
Videos are captured in a circular format. When viewed within the Snapchat app, users rotate their phone to view different aspects of the video as seen above.
Videos exported outside of Snapchat take on a circular look and lose a bit of the magic. Still, the videos are unique and easily identifiable.
I've found I have to watch a Spectacles captured video multiple times to take in the entire scene, turning and moving my phone a little differently each time it's played.
What's more, any text or stickers applied to the video aren't static - they move as if they are part of the video. It's incredibly fun to use.
As a consumer, my primary use for Spectacles is to record my daily activities. Be it taking my kids out to ride bikes, showing off some of my new homebrew equipment, or creating a time-lapse video of a long drive.
My biggest issue with Spectacles is how Snapchat handles editing and sharing of videos. Importing is painless, with a few taps in the Snapchat app. Where I become frustrated is the lack of options to edit a series of videos created back to back.
For example, say I captured a 10 videos clips while playing fetch with my dog and I want to caption the entire video with one phrase. Right now, that means I have to edit each clip adding text, save, and repeat. That's 10 edits, when it should be one.
Also, as far as I can tell, there's no way to export only a portion of the days' videos as a single clip without first deleting those videos you don't want to include.
In short, I would love to see more streamlined editing and merging tools in the Snapchat app.
However, outside of my rather boring life there are fascinating use cases. Shafi Ahmed, a surgeon at the London Independent Hospital, used Spectacles to record a routine hernia surgery.
VR and AR: The Business Reality
Ahmed would prompt an assistant to press the record button for him, then he would explain to his students what he was doing. The video isn't for those with a weak stomach, but if you can handle watching a few seconds of it, I recommend it. Not for the surgical knowledge, but to gain some perspective on how Spectacles transformed the operation into a teachable lesson from the perspective of the doctor performing the procedure.
Over the past year Snapchat has released a steady stream of augmented reality filters, applied to photos and videos captured with a smartphone. Using facial recognition technology, Snapchat overlays whimsical faces and alters voices.
While Spectacles have yet to gain the same filters, it's easy to imagine assigning a filter to Spectacles in the Snapchat app, pressing record on the glasses and letting AR take over. Only, instead of taking on a playful theme, imagine overlaying informational graphics, during a surgery perhaps, or explaining how to replace a part in a vehicle. The business use cases, in particular, are limitless.
Let's talk privacy
Snap's decision to include a clear indicator light, letting others know video is being captured (granted they actually need to know what Spectacles are in order to know what the light means) isn't the company's only attempt to ease privacy fears.
The fact that Spectacles are sunglasses -- instead of a pair of glasses with clear lenses, or frame with a camera built à la Google Glass -- is a privacy feature in itself.
People are less likely to wear sunglasses indoors, and others most certainly notice when someone is wearing shades inside, especially in a dimly lit environment.
Sure, it's still possible to sneak a video of someone who doesn't want to be recorded. But it's no easier than holding up a phone and recording someone.
How do you get a pair?
Starting in early November, Snap began placing vending machines in random places throughout the country. Those vending machines, or Snapbots as the company playfully calls them, are the only means to purchase Spectacles. There's also a pop-up Spectacles shop in Manhattan, that'll remain open through December 31.
Previously, Snap has said that Spectacles is an experiment and that it has no plans to mass produce and sell the specs.
If you somehow come across a Snapbot or happen to be in New York for New Year's Eve, it's worth snagging a pair of specs at $129. The overall design of the sunglasses isn't my cup of tea, but I have no problem putting them on and using them.
I can't wait to see what Snapchat does with Spectacles, somehow I think this is only the beginning.