But just because a company with 150 million daily users makes a product doesn't mean anyone is going to buy it. Google knows this all too well--Google Glass lasted about two years before its first iteration was abandoned.
It's too early to tell if Snap's Spectacles will avoid Glass's fate. Spectacles won't hit the market until later this fall. In the meantime, some design experts are already praising how Snap approached its version of smart glasses.
"A lot of companies tend to put the focus on the technology first, then the design," says Teran Evans, PepsiCo's brand director, who recently oversaw the design and launch of the company's first restaurant, in New York City. "The design needs to be the priority. That's especially true with wearables."
Snap's Spectacles are, by any estimation, goofy-looking. The lenses are perfectly round and the frames are flashy--for now, they'll come in black, teal or coral, each with yellow circles around the camera's lens and flash. But given Snap's young target audience, none of that is necessarily a bad thing because this is hardware that doesn't take itself too seriously. Evans argues that they look good enough to become a statement piece, unlike Glass, which took on a nerdy, "don't-be-that-guy" connotation during their short life span.
"People don't want to feel like they're wearing a piece of technology," he says, implying that that was exactly how it felt to don the decidedly cyborg-esque Glass.
Snap co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel has positioned Spectacles as a toy targeted to the company's largely teen demographic, which makes the $130 price tag seem high. But as Evans points out, $130 is on point for a pair of designer shades, and low compared to some wearables, like the $350 Apple Watch. "They're going to price out some of the Snapchat demographic," he says, "but overall, I think they've found the sweet spot."
Evans also praises Spectacles for its ability to mirror the experience of the Snap app. "You can use Snapchat quickly and easily," he says. "Press a button and you're filming, then another button and you send. It's not intrusive, it's not cumbersome. So whatever physical product they release should embody those qualities."
Fortunately for Snap, even if its first foray into physical products is a disaster, it likely won't make much of a difference to the company's financial success. According to documents obtained by TechCrunch in March, Snapchat's revenue, a modest $59 million in 2015, is estimated to reach between $250 million and $350 million in 2016 and between $500 million to $1 billion next year. Various reports have placed the company's valuation at around $20 billion.
Snap and Google are prime examples of how some brands have the luxury of releasing bombs, pulling them, and then moving forward without batting an eye.
That's usually not the case with small startups. But Mona Patel, founder and CEO of design agency Motivate Design, says that entrepreneurs can use their companies' size to their advantage.
"We now know that, when it comes to performing market research, asking people whether or not they'd use something is useless," Patel says. "You have to give it to them to actually use, get their reactions, then see if they're still using it in a few weeks. Most big companies would have trouble doing that without it leaking to the press--and if they're publicly traded, they'd need to document it." (Snap is not public but recent reports suggest the company could be considering an IPO over the next year.)
This kind of testing--observing how people use your product in real-world settings and how that changes over time--can prove invaluable before you go to launch. Being small also means far fewer hurdles to overcome should the product need tinkering. "You can move a lot faster and be nimble, and pivot quickly if needed," Patel says. "You can change everything--including the brand itself--if you need to."
In the end, whether the product sticks will depend on whether young people really do take to the fashion-forward style of the device, and if the user experience is fun and simple enough to get wearers hooked.
"Whether you're large or small, if you don't nail the actual user need, you're going to fail," Patel says. "But if you nail it, and if the product looks great, you could become a company people want to be affiliated with, and that's the ultimate goal."