Snapchat Joins the Augmented Reality Game

by Alicia Ruemelin and Darren Jackson-Adams
Simantel

This is not a trend, but a technology—and a game-changer for social media and brands alike.

First came the Millennials, then the Gen Xers, then brands. Coined the “disappearing photo app,” Snapchat confirmed that 2.8 billion Snaps are created every day. A Snap can be either a photo or video taken in the app that a user can send to friends. But here’s the catch: it disappears in just 10 seconds. Believe it or not, Snapchat pushed the limit on other social media sites when it comes to documentation “in the moment.”

After five years of explosive growth (up to 158 million users, to be exact), Snapchat decided to take their business beyond just software and into hardware. Late last year, the popular app launched Snapchat Spectacles—a camera slightly hidden in a pair of sunglasses that allows you to share a moment on Snapchat as your eyes see it. Snapchat’s hands-free solution simultaneously pushed the company into the wearable space and the augmented reality game. Wearable tech includes products like GoPro, Apple Watch, Google Glass and many more lookalikes emerging, what seems to be, daily.

At a recent Advertising and Marketing Independent Network (AMIN) conference, Simantel was lucky enough to win a pair during an online trivia game. So we put the new technology to the test.

Darren Jackson-Adams

 

Darren’s Aesthetic Rating: A-
First, the specs were handed over to Darren Jackson-Adams, a graphic designer at Simantel with a keen artistic eye and a natural appetite for social media. While originally going in with uncertain expectations, after some review time they did not disappoint.

To start, what did you think about the look of the Spectacles and the packaging?
Darren:
My first "wow" reaction to Spectacles was the product packaging and hardware. Just like the fresh appeal of the functionality of the Snapchat app itself, the packaging and hardware really take on a unique approach in their own right. Even though the pair we tested was won at an event, the fact that at first you can only buy this wearable out of a vending machine, positions it well into the future—where we will also be buying our pets and Thanksgiving dinners.

The actual fashion design of the Spectacles must’ve been a major concern for Snapchat, because I felt fabulous wearing them and I was told often that I looked good in them. The frame shape is very contemporary and the camera (with timing interface in both corners of the frames) make them look very futuristic. Although the Spectacles case looks like a block of cheese, it is super-functional because that’s where you charge the wearable. It holds four full charges to make sure you can life-log all day long.

From a designer’s perspective, what’d you think about the video quality?
Darren:
For a camera that lives in a pair of sunglasses, I didn’t have the highest expectations for quality video—but boy was I wrong! The HD video quality was very sharp and retained color saturation very well; I would say even better than some mid-range smartphones. Skin tones looked very realistic and not washed out. The bright colors of some of our clothes and artifacts in Simantel’s office kept its lifelike vividness. This is quite possibly the biggest surprise of the product.

However, what made the Spectacles’ video quality playful and kept me wanting to use it, was the round video mask and the wide lens that resulted in a slightly fish-eyed approach. As different objects (most notably your hands) would enter the frame, it really makes it feel as if the world is moving very fast around you. Add that to the quickness of the way we look around from our human point of view and the 10-second timeframe, the videos really have an immediacy that makes me want to consume them over and over and over again.

What’s something that you didn’t expect?
Darren:
The last cool feature that no one was expecting is the hardest to explain in a paragraph; it’s the circular video rotation. You definitely have to see it to truly experience it. While testing Spectacles, I found myself constantly telling people, “But look at this part, it’s really cool!” You can view videos in either landscape or portrait mode, without any weird black boxes on your screen. And let’s be honest, it’s really fun to rotate your phone like a steering wheel and the video playback always remains upright and stabilized. Whooooooaaaaahhhh!

Snapchat Spectacles

Alicia’s Usability Rating: B-
Next, Alicia Ruemelin, Simantel’s brand manager with years of experience in brand and social marketing, took a run at the specs. Her perspective focuses more on the usability of the wearable tech and what this means for companies, beyond just the cool effect.

Any tips and tricks to keep in mind when using the Spectacles?
Alicia:
Darren and I are Snapchat buds, so I already was privy to how good his Snaps were turning out. As soon as Darren handed the Spectacles off to me, I was excited to get started. I noticed right away just how easy it was to pair with my phone; all you have to do is look at the screen with your Snapcode and hit the button on the top left of the specs. Voila, paired with my own Snapchat instance. No need to mess around with your Bluetooth settings like I expected. In just seconds, I was ready to start snapping… but my first shot didn’t go so well. Since the camera is in the top outside corner of the frames, all you see is my hair hanging in front of the camera for half of the video. Pro tip for females with side bangs: before you spend $130 on this wearable, make sure to also invest in hair ties.

Outside of the office, where can you see this being used?
Alicia: I typically post still shots on Snapchat, but the Spectacles forced me to post videos. And to be honest, there might not be much to share about working in an office, so you have to look for reasons to use them and "create your own fun" (as proven by another coworker who took a few minutes to test them while spinning in an office chair). They’re designed more for on-the-go activities, similar to a GoPro. So, I decided to take them out of the office and to the gym that evening to chronicle my volleyball practice. I was even more impressed with how my Snaps were turning out from the perspective of being on the court (and they were all the rave with the 14-year-old girls that I coach).

So, what did I learn out of all of this? For professions and hobbies that are more hands-on and active, these would be a great fit. For example, an operator driving heavy machinery, a promoter working backstage at a music festival, or a farmer out in the field would all be ideal situations to use the Spectacles.

What does this mean for brands?
Alicia: If you are a marketer or an influencer wanting to give a look into your company and humanize your brand, the Spectacles may be for you. Be sure to do your homework first on where your target audience is spending their time. If it’s in the Snapchat app, then take the leap into this augmented reality. This can open up a whole new dynamic for user-generated content campaigns (another topic for another day).

If you are a social media marketer, beware that there is a significant difference between the video you save to your phone vs. viewing the video directly in the Snapchat app. Similar to a business, I have a different audience on my Snapchat than my following on Facebook, and there were videos I wanted to share with both audiences. Since the Spectacles only integrate with Snapchat, it doesn’t necessarily play nice with other mediums. Users have to go to extra lengths to pull the video out of SnapChat to post elsewhere; and due to the rotation feature, the videos appear as a circle with a white background. Not necessarily the same effect.

Beyond Just Entertainment
The more significant observation here, beyond just Snapchat, is the movement that is happening. In 2014, Facebook announced the acquisition of virtual reality technology company Oculus VR for $2 billion. And let’s be honest, if Mark Zuckerberg is willing to invest, chances are he’s done his due diligence. This acquisition may have brought it to the masses, but the technology is not just intended for amusement.

Beyond entertainment, VR and AR can enhance education like never before. Not just for students, but for professionals in the healthcare industry, the safety industry or even those operating heavy machinery. And big brands are seeing the potential and making the investment. Take NASA for example, who already sent their astronauts to Mars—via VR. Virtual reality and augmented reality are not a trend, but a technology. And it’s been a game-changer for social media and brands alike. We can’t wait to see what the industry responds with next. iBi

Alicia Ruemelin is brand manager and Darren Jackson-Adams is a designer at Simantel.

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