Snap's Snapchat recently started selling its Spectacles -- glasses with a built-in camera for video capture -- in vending machines. However, the $130 device has been tough to find since the "Snapbot" vending machines are as ephemeral as Snapchat's vanishing pictures -- they only stay in a single location for 24 hours before disappearing, and Snapchat only announces the next location 24 hours in advance.
It's a clever marketing strategy which has generated lots of hype. Wired reports that people were lining up in the L.A. area to buy the Spectacles, and that they quickly sold out. Shortly afterwards, reports claimed that scalpers were selling the device for as much as $5,000 online. Customers seem much more eager to buy Spectacles than Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google Glass -- but will this initial momentum help it succeed where Glass failed?
Why Google Glass failed
To see if Spectacles can succeed, we should remember why Google Glass failed. First, the "Explorer" version of Glass cost a whopping $1,500 -- limiting its appeal to affluent gadget enthusiasts instead of mainstream consumers. Second, the device looked awkward, and hiring acclaimed designer Diane von Furstenberg to make them more fashion-friendly didn't help.
Google also tried to add smartphone-like apps to Glass' heads-up display, but many were implemented poorly and ran slower than they did on regular smartphones. It was also unclear who Glass was designed for. Instead of promoting the device for practical uses in education, law enforcement, or construction, Google advertised it as a device for capturing experiences from a first-person view akin to GoPro's (NASDAQ:GPRO) action cameras. However, GoPro cameras were cheaper and more durable, and captured much higher-quality images and videos than Glass.
Google also didn't realize that people didn't like Glass "Explorers" wandering into public areas and staring at them. Since there was no visible indicator of whether or not photos and videos were being captured, businesses banned Glass users from their establishments. Google issued etiquette guidelines for Glass to counter the backlash, but the device was so widely mocked that it was finally discontinued last year.
Why Spectacles might succeed
To sell Spectacles, Snap is leveraging something that Google lacked -- a growing social networking presence. Between June 2014 and June 2016, Snapchat's daily active users soared from 59 million to 150 million. With that reach, especially among millennials (about 70% of its user base, according to eMarketer), Snap has the clout to expand its ecosystem with new software and hardware products.
Snap also seems to have done its homework regarding Glass' shortcomings. Spectacles come in much cheaper at $130, and the ephemeral vending machine strategy generates much more hype than Google's Explorer sign-up program. The Spectacles also look like wacky toys instead of serious tech devices -- which may make them more socially acceptable. Its case, which doubles as a charging dock, is also more innovative than Glass' basic USB charging cable.
Instead of featuring a wide variety of mediocre apps, Spectacles only does one thing -- take first-person Snaps. Most importantly, the device alerts bystanders by lighting up while capturing content, eliminating the creepiness factor of Google Glass.
Snap isn't the only one to learn from Glass' failure
In hindsight, it's easy to see Google's mistakes with Glass. But other companies besides Snap are clearly learning from its failure.
Sony (NYSE:SNE) subsequently promoted its SmartEyeglass AR headset to enterprise users instead of mainstream consumers. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) made its "mixed reality" HoloLens headset a tethered PC-based device for productivity and entertainment instead of a free-roaming AR one to be worn in public. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is also reportedly testing out a pair of AR glasses for mainstream consumers, and might address Glass' shortcomings in the same manner as Snap.
It's unclear if Spectacles will succeed where Glass failed, and Snap probably won't release any hard sales figures for the device. But the initial demand and buzz indicate that it's off to a strong start, and it may finally pave the way for AR glasses to gain mainstream approval.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Leo Sun has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Apple, and GoPro. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft and has the following options: long January 2018 $90 calls on Apple, short January 2018 $95 calls on Apple, short January 2019 $12 calls on GoPro, and long January 2019 $12 puts on GoPro. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.