The Real Reason Snapchat’s Spectacles Can Fare Better Than Google Glass

As Google Glass fades to distant memory, yet another alliterative wearable is trying to turn our faces into cameras. Why? Even Google — a company that we trust to develop self-driving cars and deliver burritos by drones — was heavily maligned for daring to add a camera to our glasses. The criticism was unrelenting: the glasses were expensive, they looked ridiculous, and they could be used to covertly take video of others without their knowledge. In some ways, Snapchat’s Spectacles address those concerns. They’ll retail for roughly one-tenth of what early adopters had to shell out for Google Glass, and the Spectacles camera has lights to indicate when it’s filming. How fashionable they are remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Spectacles will seemingly do a whole lot less. When discussing Google Glass, we wrote about letting elite surgeons guide younger doctors and helping technicians diagnose consumer electronics problems remotely. Snapchat, on the other hand, lets you take your selfie and add dog ears or replace your eyes with extra mouths. Yet even while Snapchat’s CEO likens Spectacles to little more than an expensive “toy,” early commentary suggests that critics are willing to give Snapchat the benefit of the doubt.

There’s actually a decent chance Spectacles will succeed. In fact, many products we love to hate can actually rack up pretty good sales numbers. Think about the selfie stick. Despite being banned in many places, blamed for a number of accidents, and incessantly criticized, the selfie stick has persevered. Smartwatches followed a similar path from ridicule to revenue. It’s reasonable to believe that Spectacles may do the same.

In order for a product like this — or any product — to succeed, it needs to satisfy a job that customers are trying to get done in their lives. And that job needs to be one that customers are struggling to satisfy with the existing array of available solutions. One job that comes to mind is simply that of conspicuous consumption. Snapchat’s Spectacles allow millennials to define themselves as trend-setters among their peers and to noticeably distance themselves from the tools and social media platforms that their parents are using. With a simple pair of glasses, they can make a very clear statement. It’s similar to Beats headphones. Despite offering mediocre sound quality, the headphones were exceedingly popular because they were a status symbol. The high price they commanded was nothing more than the cost of sitting at the lunchroom’s cool table.

While some products can become quite successful under that kind of status symbol model, it’s a risky play to bank on. The fashion and electronics markets move quickly, and the competition can be quite broad. A new sneaker or smart device could soon be a more desirable way of making a statement. To reach a wider audience or have any sort of staying power, Snapchat will need to highlight specific occasions where its Spectacles really outperform the competition in getting a job done. And finding those key use cases can be tricky. GoPro has struggled recently, for example, because it’s having a hard time pushing beyond the niche market of adrenaline junkies who need to have their hands free while engaging in extreme sports, especially given its lack of investment in a software ecosystem that makes it easy to edit and share the video it creates.

Much of Snapchat’s success so far has been focused on making “life logging” easier — helping people capture and share raw details of everyday life. And there are pain points when trying to do that with existing solutions, including Snapchat’s own mobile app. For instance, Spectacles’ lens shape and automatic cropping abilities create video that more closely mimics the way the human eye sees things, limiting distortion and allowing you to easily play back video in either a vertical or horizontal orientation. Having a wearable camera also allows you to capture video in circumstances when taking out a phone may take too long, such as when a friend, child, or pet is doing something funny but the moment will soon pass. Given the advertising on the Spectacles site, it seems Snapchat may already be thinking through these use cases. The wearable camera — and ability to take video independently of a smartphone — also makes Spectacles practical in situations where you may not want to have your phone, such as while wading into the ocean at the beach. It’s by finding these imperfect situations that customers can relate to that Snapchat has a chance to succeed.

Advertising on the Spectacles webpage

While even Snapchat is being cautiously optimistic about the potential of its Spectacles, there are indicators that the company may be able to pull off what Google could not. Assuming the organization stays faithful to what has made it successful so far in helping its target users satisfy important jobs that they’re struggling to get done, it seems plausible that early sales numbers will be promising. And if Spectacles do take off, Snapchat will have given itself a very interesting platform for expanding beyond just its app.

Dave Farber is a growth strategy and innovation consultant at New Markets Advisors. He explores the Jobs to be Done concept — including a deeper look at Snapchat and other emerging companies — in his forthcoming book Jobs to be Done: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation.