The biggest win in the race for consumer augmented reality smartglasses to date belongs not to Apple, Facebook, or Google, but Snapchat’s parent company, Snap.
In an Apple-style “one more thing” moment during the Snap Partner Summit keynote on Thursday, CEO Evan Spiegel revealed the next generation of Spectacles, which have finally evolved into standalone smartglasses capable of displaying AR content.
With dual waveguide displays, two RGB cameras, four microphones, and two stereo speakers, the smartglasses weigh 134 grams and can deliver 23 degrees diagonal field of view and 2000 nits of brightness. The device runs on Snap’s own Spatial Engine, which is capable of six degrees of freedom and hand tracking, and works without a smartphone nearby (although a smartphone is needed to initialize set-up).
Users can browse the Lens Carousel via a capacitive touchpad on the temple or launch Lenses via Voice Scan and then view the AR effects directly through the smartglasses. Users can also launch Lenses with Voice Scan.
A button on the right initiates Scan, Snapchat’s visual search tool, to suggest Lenses based on what is in the field of view, while the left button records 10-second videos with AR effects, which are exported to the connected smartphone. As usual, an LED light lets people know when video capture is occurring.
If there’s a downside, it’s the fact that the device has a meager 30 minutes of battery life with continuous use. Also, its utility appears to be limited to Snap’s AR Lenses—no AR navigation or notifications here.
Unfortunately, they aren’t available to the general public at this point. Instead, they are being offered to a select group of AR creators. For those creators, though, the Spectacles have full integration with Lens Studio, including the ability to test Lenses in real-time.
For everyone else, there’s a try-on Lens available via the Snapchat Lens Carousel today.
Today’s surprise reveal was actually foreshadowed earlier this year by reports that Snap had AR-capable Spectacles in the works.
The tech world has waited with bated breath for Apple to bring its secretive AR wearable to market, with the current consensus pointing to an AR headset to arrive in 2022. Meanwhile, Facebook and its AR/VR arm by acquisition, Oculus, will tell anyone who will listen that it’s working on AR smartglasses and accessories.
But, lo and behold, Snap has been dropping subtle hints on its progress toward smartglasses through its earlier versions of Spectacles. The camera-equipped wearable made a step in the smartglasses direction in its third-generation edition, which also featured dual cameras, but needed to export 3D videos and images to Snapchat in order to add AR effects.
Though the next Spectacles are positioned as a developer kit, the company is further ahead than much bigger tech companies in the next paradigm of computing.