Snap Spectacles AR: Exclusive Details About Snap’s New AR Glasses

Snap is intent on positioning—no pun intended—the glasses as a work in progress. They’re a tool kit for developers (or “creators,” as the company insists on calling them). “When we talk about compromise, maybe that’s the fundamental compromise we’re making,” Spiegel told me over videoconference from his home in Los Angeles. “Instead of shipping hardware to millions of people, we can iterate and learn together, this community of creators. Ultimately when you experience something like that poem, that’s all worth it.”

Spiegel is referring to a Spectacles Lens called Poem World, created by Zach Lieberman and narrated by Shantell Martin. I tried it myself during my briefing in Silicon Valley. I slipped on the glasses, walked into the backyard, and experienced the virtual scroll of words in front of my eyes. That’s the thing about Snap’s new Spectacles: For all their prototypical unreadiness and the general complexities of AR, the apps are remarkably cool.

A Lens called Metascapes guided me through meditation exercises, and every time I completed a breath cycle, it placed a virtual ocean creature into the space around me. An app called BlackSoul Gallery surrounded me with virtual art created by Black artists, bold paintings and giant wireframes appearing against the real-life bushes in the backyard. SketchFlow let me watercolor the space around me by “throwing” paint—swiping my finger intentionally across the Spectacles’ touchpad. One of the more wow-worthy aspects of AR applications is their spatial memory; you can create these bits of digital reality in the world around you, walk away for a bit, and, provided you haven’t closed out of the app, return to find the floating octopus or rainbow road right where you left it.

Video: SNAP

Snap only gave seven developers access to the glasses ahead of the official launch, but the company plans to dole out around a thousand more devices through its application process. It will even offer generous grants through an incubator called Ghost. Anything to get the apps made. Developers will have their work cut out for them, trying to make stuff within the technical and visual constraints of these funky glasses; the most annoying part of my experience with Spectacles, more so than the overheating, was the limited field of view.

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You can also record your AR experience on Spectacles and wirelessly share it to your Snapchat smartphone app. And from there, share it with your friends, who will watch the video on a device with a wider visual canvas. Snap may be at the forefront of augmented reality, calling itself a camera company every chance it gets, but its most important technology is still its core mobile app.

Looking Ahead

Snapchat users create an average of 5 billion snaps, or messages, every day. You read that correctly: 5 billion. And here’s the thing: That’s just photo and video messages, not text-based ones. Its youngish users, what Snap refers to as “the Snapchat generation,” are 150 percent more likely to prefer communicating with images instead of words. That’s a big part of why, back in 2016, Spiegel began insisting Snap was a camera company.

Snapchat users also love AR filters, or lenses as the company calls them. In the first quarter of 2021, the number of Snapchatters applying filters grew 40 percent from a year ago. The “extended reality” glasses, to borrow the nerdy phrase from Qualcomm, are quite literally a way of extending that reach, of ensuring that no matter where you go—that even if you’re determined to look away from your phone—Snap’s lenses are right in front of you. There’s all kinds of potential there, beyond sheer art. It’s not hard to imagine ads, or commerce buttons, appearing in front of your very eyes.

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