Snap Inc unveiled the third — and most expensive — iteration of the company’s video-recording sunglasses on Tuesday. Spectacles 3, the latest wearable device from the company behind the Snapchat social-messaging app, let users record with two cameras instead of one, and have a steel wire frame rather than the chunkier plastic of previous models. At $380 a pair, the new glasses are more than twice as expensive as Snap’s second version. Spectacles 3 are available for preorder, and will be shipped this fall.
Snap has not had much success with Spectacles thus far. The company sold more than 200,000 pairs of the original version, which debuted in 2016. But Snap overestimated demand and had to write down almost $40 million in inventory in late 2017. When Snap reported second-quarter results in July, it said revenue from Spectacles was “not material.”
That’s likely why Snap says Spectacles 3 will be a “limited edition” product, with production just a fraction of the original model. So if Snap doesn’t make money off Spectacles, and doesn’t plan to sell many units, why bother making them at all?
Chief Executive Officer Evan Spiegel is a big believer in augmented reality, and the blending of digital and physical worlds. Snap already has a number of AR software products, like face filters, built into Snapchat. Eventually, the idea is that people will wear cameras and lenses on their faces so that they don’t need to use AR through their phones. A Snap spokesman said the latest Spectacles are meant “to draw our community closer to a future in which computing is overlaid on the world, rather than confined to a small screen.”
Spiegel isn’t the only one interested in AR. Apple Inc and Facebook Inc are working on AR glasses. Microsoft Corp sells an AR headset called Hololens. Google launched Glass internet-connected eyewear in 2013, but it flopped as a consumer product.
If AR takes off, building the hardware will be a competitive business. So it makes sense for Snap to test early versions — even if users aren’t really interested yet.