While walking around downtown San Francisco yesterday, I saw five people wearing AirPods, those new wireless earphones from Apple that appear to be floating just outside of people’s ears.
And this is at a time when Apple’s store in the Union Square neighborhood has none in stock, while Apple’s online store has a six-week shipping delay on AirPods. “We’re working hard to catch up with the incredible demand,” Apple chief executive Tim Cook told analysts on the company’s earnings call last month.
It’s safe to say that AirPods are among the hottest consumer electronics products out now. But another product that’s gotten a lot of buzz lately, the Spectacles glasses from Snap (the company behind messaging app Snapchat), is nowhere to be seen.
I literally haven’t seen one pair in real life in San Francisco — or even during a weeklong visit to Los Angeles last month, despite Snap’s headquarters being in the city’s Venice neighborhood. I asked an employee in Apple’s Union Square store if he had seen anyone wearing Spectacles, and he said no, but he does know someone who bought them but never wears them — the battery died and she hasn’t recharged it, he said.
True, Snap has taken an unorthodox approach to selling Spectacles. First they were only available through soda machine-like “bots” that were dropped outside in a different place in the U.S. each day. (So weird. So millennial.) Then Snap opened a store in New York. Then, earlier this week, Snap started selling Spectacles online.
And true, Spectacles, with their camera for recording video, remind some people of Google Glass, the all but discontinued headset with a tiny display mounted in front of your right eye. Two people were attacked in San Francisco while wearing Google Glass. So maybe that’s one reason people who own Spectacles don’t wear them out in public here.
Is this a problem? I would say yes. I expected Snap’s first hardware product, and really the first product other than Snapchat itself, to make a big splash in the oh-so-tech-savvy Bay Area. The way Spectacles are viewed here is sort of important because it could affect Snap’s chances of hiring people, forming new business relationships, and keeping the Snapchat app in people’s minds when there are so many other messaging apps they can use instead.
This is also a really important time for Snap; it just filed to go public on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
In the “roadshow” video the company is showing to prospective investors, Snap chief executive Evan Spiegel starts off by saying that “Snap is a camera company” and that “we feel like we’re really at the beginning of what cameras can do.” That’s a reference to the big announcement back in September that Snapchat was changing its name to Snap, rebranding itself as a camera company, and launching its first product with a camera on it, that being Spectacles, of course. But the subtext is clear: We’re much more than a messaging app, we’re a company that makes hardware, we’ve already expanded our total addressable market (TAM) with this hardware, and there’s more to come.
All of which is to say that the way the hardware is seen is crucial. Here in San Francisco, fewer than 400 miles away from Snapchat HQ, it’s not going well so far.