Amid a pre-recorded Partner Summit where Snap took users through a whole set of new tools for Snapchat users, creators and companies, Snap also threw in a "one more thing" at the end that shows the company, after a rocky start several years ago, is definitely not giving up on its hardware ambitions anytime soon.
Snap announced the latest generation of its Spectacles, a streamlined 60s-style design in black that is the company's biggest play yet in merging some of the work it has been building in augmented reality technology to a specific device tailored to work with it.
Evan Spiegel, Snap's co-founder and CEO, described the Spectacles as the company's "first pair of glasses that bring augmented reality to life," and if you ever owned or tried out earlier versions of the glasses, it sounds like these are just more intuitive and seamless.
The fourth generation of these glasses will operate 30 minutes at a time, he said, and will feature dual 3D waveguide displays, and a 26.3-degree diagonal field of view for an immersive lens experience that "feels like they're naturally overlaid on the world in front of you." The glasses pack a lot of brightness to make them as usable inside and outside, and they come with built-in microphones, stereo speakers and touchpad controls. They are also relatively light at 134 grams.
Snap seems to be marketing the device for creators on the Snap platform rather than consumers toward whom the company has previously geared its hardware. Snap's release embodies the strategy others have taken of building augmented reality tech in public even as the underlying tech is not quite ready for a mass market release.
The hardware itself is less capable than earlier releases from AR startups like Magic Leap, but Snap seems to have opted to sacrifice functionality for form factor, delivering a device that is less helmet-like than other augmented reality headsets.
Spiegel said that the glasses will feature the company's new spatial engine, "which leverages six degrees of freedom, hand and surface tracking realistic ground digital objects in the physical world," with 15 millisecond motion to photon latency for more responsiveness. The glasses are also integrated with Snap's Lens Studio so that creators can build custom lenses for the devices. It's rolled out the glasses already to a small group of early users, so expect to see these ship pre-populated with a range of lenses and other customizations.
Snap has long banked on augmented reality as a major opportunity but is still an underdog in the space given the size of its massive competitors.
The AR-capable Spectacles arrive ahead of Facebook's upcoming smart glasses, which the company has partnered with Ray Ban to produce. Those glasses are not expected to include built-in displays and will instead rely heavily on other forms of input. Apple has also long been rumored to be working on augmented reality glasses and reportedly has thousands of employees working to build them.