Snapchat’s unveiling of camera-equipped sunglasses thrusts the messaging app maker into the cutthroat hardware business, a risky move that reflects its strength in video, but follows a shaky record by internet giants.
On Friday, the Venice, Calif., startup revealed Spectacles, a $130 pair of stylish sunglasses outfitted with a camera that with a tap of a button near the hinge can record up to 10 seconds of video at a time.
The one-size-fits-all glasses, which come in black, teal or coral and will be available this fall in limited quantities, are designed to connect to a smartphone so Snapchat users easily can share videos through the app.
The company also changed its corporate name to Snap Inc. to characterize its ambitions beyond the messaging app that has made it so popular, particularly among teens and millennials.
About 150 million people use Snapchat daily during which more than 10 billion videos are viewed, according to the company.
Snapchat’s domination with younger audiences has helped the company earn an $18 billion valuation from investors, garner buzz among big-brand advertisers such as PepsiCo Inc., and strike partnerships with media companies such as BuzzFeed Inc. and The Wall Street Journal.
Snapchat has transformed what many assumed would be a fad—messages, photos and videos that disappear—into a different form of social behavior. Whereas Facebook and Instagram tend to serve as living monuments of people’s lives, Snapchat’s ephemeral nature encourages users to share imperfect photos and videos of the moment.
Spectacles represents the next phase of that idea by removing the phone in front of the users’ faces and freeing their hands. Its 115-degree-angle lens is wider than a typical smartphone’s and produces circular video so the viewer feels like they are experiencing the recorder’s perspective.
But a foray into hardware is decisively more complicated than app development. Inventory must be managed precisely. The products, especially sunglasses, need to appeal to fickle consumers.
Unlike in the internet world where companies can quickly patch up glitchy software with an updated release, hardware fixes mean a recall or waiting for the next model.
Snapc declined to provide more details about Spectacles, including how much they have invested in the project and who will be manufacturing the sunglasses.
Snapchat’s app has had its flaws. It suffered a security breach in 2014 that exposed millions of users identifying information. Users complained earlier this year when it released a photo “lens” that altered their likeness to that of reggae legend Bob Marley —including a skin-darkening tint some people equated to blackface.
“Companies that are brand new in hardware tend not to do those things very well, so that will be a challenge for Snapchat,” said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research.
A sea of hardware failures from internet companies underscores the difficulty of wading into uncharted territory. Google’s costly move into smartphone manufacturing with the $12.5 billion acquisition of handset maker Motorola Inc. ended in 2014 after just 22 months.
Last year Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., stopped selling its Google Glass head-mounted device after it drew ridicule and raised privacy concerns for its ability to surreptitiously record video.
Facebook Inc. only recently plunged into consumer hardware, this year selling the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset whose arrival was beset by shipping delays.
What binds these companies’ strategies is a desire to attract as many people to their services as possible, whether a retail site, a search engine or a social network.
Five-year-old Snap, which has raised more than $2 billion in venture capital, is early to the field by comparison. Amazon, Google and Facebook all began selling their first consumer gadgets about a dozen years after they launched their sites.