Can smart glasses ever truly be cool? If you've been paying attention to Snap Inc's tribulations in the market over the years, the answer to that question is a resounding "hell no!" Now though, the camera company™ might be on to something, having teased a new pair that are not entirely awful.
It was back in 2017 when Snap debuted Spectacles in the form of an unnervingly "funky," flimsy-looking pair that one might expect to find gathering dust in the bargain bin at Urban Outfitters. Speaking from a pure style vantage point, the follow-ups haven't been much better. Admittedly, I've always found it difficult to appraise products like smart glasses when they're at the infant development stage, finding the weirdness of a grown man wearing them on the street for no real reason at odds with any of the progressive technology contained within. But hey, people thought mobile phones were but mere yuppy toys back in '90s.
While you won't find YG sporting the Spectacles 2021 reboot anytime soon (I mean that literally — they won't be released to the public), they do feel decidedly less try-hard than what's come before. They're streamlined and retro-futuristic — they look like they're smart glasses, which is no bad thing. Rather than piggybacking on established shades and winding up in uncanny valley territory, the new Spectacles feel more like a unique splinter category unto themselves. Their unapologetic boldness is much preferable to an ersatz pair of Wayfarers that have been ham-fistedly zombified with cameras and microphones. In fact, that kind of forthright clunkiness is much the same reason as to why I dig the Tesla Cybertruck.
Under the bonnet, the Spectacles are Snap's first true augmented reality glasses. "[We can] now realistically ground digital objects in the physical world," said CEO Evan Spiegel, before showing them in action in a demo. It's an ambitious product, developed by Snap's secretive Snap Lab division, and one clearly not built with the mass-market in mind, hence the company's decision to only seed certain AR creators at the current moment. The fact they weigh a meaty 134 grams — more than double the weight of previous versions — shows that they aren't exactly beach ready just yet.
“I don’t believe the phone is going away,” Spiegel told The Verge. “I just think that the next generation of Spectacles can help unlock a new way to use AR hands-free, and the ability to really roam around with your eyes looking up at the horizon, out at the world.”
Despite lukewarm sales and internal beef, Snap has remained resolute in making Spectacles a thing. That makes sense when you consider that Facebook is currently developing a pair with Ray-Ban maker Luxottica and that Apple are strongly rumored to be entering the market in 2023. Many people are excited about the technology, but less so about how they might push aesthetics. Maybe we should be. Can smart glasses ever truly be cool? Don't rule it out.