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Snapchat is stuck in the strange valley of the AR glasses

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"Timing", Snapchat's CEO, Evan Spiegel, said enigmatically that the biggest threat was for Snap Inc. "I think big risks are always the big ideas of products in which we invest and which are difficult to to master. "He told the Goldman Sachs conference two weeks ago.

Statements have been lost among more brilliant quotes. He defended Snapchat's overhaul saying "Even the complaints we see reinforcing the philosophy," and describes Snap's office atmosphere as "just below the boil …. like when you water heaters, and it's really very hot, but it's just below boiling. "

However, it is his thoughts on "timing" that give us the deepest insight into Snapchat's most difficult problem: overcoming reality.

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"I think that if we look at the future, there are a lot of different components to what we are trying to accomplish and timing is important – especially in the technology sector, both in terms of consumer willingness to try new products, but also in terms of technological development and what this can supply within a set period of time .In the next decade, the big products that we let's try to develop, I think timing is a fun thing, it's probably what I'll be watching as we keep trying to develop products, and we're ready to wait to get them, but that's Is probably the risk . "

For Snap, no idea is bigger than building augmented reality glasses that combine morphing features into an elegant format. I think that's what Spiegel was suggesting. He knows that Snap is mired in a mysterious valley between the dull truth of augmented reality material today and the AR gadgets that are years far beyond our current technical feats.

Karl Lagerfeld's picture of Snap's CEO, Evan Spiegel, carrying Spectacles for their revelation of September 2016

The fact is that no one was able to build that. Google Glass has collapsed with consumers and has rotated to the business. The bulky headset of Magic Leap requires a backpack or backpack to power it, and is still only a rendering. Facebook has nothing to show and Apple has kept everything that she tinkers with the secret. The Vaunt glasses from Intel are perhaps the closest – they are small and elegant, but they contain only text notifications and projected indications on your retina.

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We are still far from compact AR glasses that can superimpose virtual objects on the real world, as does Snapchat's smartphone app. Maybe years. And that's the "timing" of the risk described by Spiegel. Snap could be ready to wait, or more accurately, forced to wait. But government procurement may not be as patient, and larger, better-funded companies will compete for the price.

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The slowness with which Snapchat is progressing toward the goal was revealed yesterday by Alex Heath of Cheddar on Snap Spectacles' future. He reports that Snap is preparing to launch Shows v2 later this year and v3 in 2019. But they will not deliver on the feverish dream of RA glasses that seamlessly alter our lives.

Shows v1 emerged in the fall of 2016 with a way to record a circular video in the first person from a built-in camera in a frame. But getting the videos on the glasses and in your phone in high resolution has turned out to be a problem. Despite a hyped up launch with lines outside its Snap Bot vending machines in surprise locations, their usefulness was limited.

Read our feature article, "Why Snapchat Glasses Have Flopped"

The word of a new version of Spectacles might surprise some. Data showed that less than half of homeowners continued to use them after a month with many shows after only a week. The best camera is the one you have with you. But between charging via a proprietary cable, their fragility, and their bulky triangular case, people rarely had their shows when they needed them. Snap sold only 150,000 pairs, hundreds of thousands of which were unsold in warehouses, and recorded a write-off of $ 40 million on computer equipment.

After 2 years of improvements, v2 shows will be … water resistant, available in new colors, and will have fewer bugs. This is little progress for a long time. And the launch has already missed the internal deadlines.

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v3 is expected in 2019 and is supposed to be a little more ambitious with two cameras to add 3D depth effects to the videos that they record. But it's still far from us, numerically hallucinating a hot dog dancing through the Shows themselves.

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All this highlights the problem of "timing". Snapchat claims to be a "camera company" but does not manufacture smartphones, which everyone uses as cameras. There is a lot going on with just software, bringing augmented reality to the masses through puppy ears and rainbow vomit. Still, the world is waiting for AR glasses, and Snap can not yet make them.

What he has built, and what is on his now-proven track record for the next two years, does not cut him off. The concept known as "strange valley" explains our repulsion towards humanoid objects such as androids, realistic dolls and 3D animation that do not seem convincing. You would expect something more human to look like, the more warmly we would receive it. But in fact, our positive perception falls into a valley until something reaches a high threshold of accuracy to mimic humans.

I believe that Snapchat is stuck in the strange valley of the AR glasses. At the beginning of the spectrum are our smartphones. They can produce a somewhat convincing augmented reality … as long as you pause your disbelief as you hold your phone in front of your face. At the other end are the AR glasses we imagine, which look like normal glasses or even contact lenses, but which can superimpose convincing AR objects on our sight so that we can not say that They are not real.

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In the middle are Snapchat Shows, with all the stigmas attached. Beyond the shooting of the circular video from the point of view of the first person, they are probably cameras much worse than our phones. Poor resolution, limited battery life, video only, hard to export, can not take selfies, and they do not have the self-stabilizing swivel gimbals that are our hands.

And from a form factor point of view, they are invasive, literally putting a barrier between us and everyone, while frightening them that we could save. Unless they elevate you to having technological superpowers, what they do not do, they inhibit your ability to interact with humanity. If you wear glasses, you could be called a glass hole. In the meantime your phone is always with you, but resides humbly in your pocket or purse.

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As described, Shows v2 and v3 will not change this equation. That's why I would be surprised that they are selling well enough to become a serious hardware company for Snap, or provide enough unique content to boost the use of Snapchat.

The company's irreverent brand and its mischievous design aesthetic allow it to get rid of unpolished products that would never meet Apple's standards. However, Snap will probably have to spend years and billions of dollars to get to a v5 or show v6 that can make its way out of this strange valley. He may run out of time and money.

Snap lost $ 350 million last quarter and $ 3.5 billion in 2017. It has only $ 2 billion in cash and bank securities. Facebook is waging a total war against Snapchat, cloning its features, blocking the growth of its users, and jockeying for its vertical video ads dollars. By the time Snap arrives at AR Shows viable, the company founded in 2011 could be ten years old and begins to lose its luster with the next generation of teens. And every day, Apple, Google or another hardware giant is getting closer to launching their own eyewear defining the market.

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Snapchat is and has always been in the hands of Spiegel, between his voting rights and his product instincts. If he is forced to bet the future of Snap on AR glasses, no one can dissuade him. But the timetable for pure technological progress is something out of the control of the CEO. As I wrote while evaluating the potential of Snap's IPO, it all boils down to "Do you believe in Evan Spiegel?" When he says that "timing" is the biggest risk of the business, expect that Snap