A skeptic's guide to Spectacles
A view from Dino Burbidge

A skeptic's guide to Spectacles

Dino Burbidge didn't even know he wanted a pair of Spectacles until he realised one of Snap's vending machines was only half a mile away.

Snapchat. You know, the yellow app with the ghost. The social network teens use to send each other pictures of their private parts. It’s so not. At least, not any more. In fact, more than 25% of the UK’s smartphone users are on Snapchat and, with 70% of those under the age of 34, 30% of them are, well, old folk like me.

Snapchat, for me, was firmly on my second screen, next to WhatsApp, Periscope and Crossy Road. Then it did what nobody expected – it released hardware in the form of Snapchat Spectacles. A way to record video directly from your glasses and post it to Snapchat. Not even Facebook or Twitter has consumer hardware, ferchristsakes! Ballsy move. And not any old hardware but something similar to what Google tried two years ago – a venture that failed so badly, the company hasn’t been near it since. Super-ballsy move. 

I don’t use Snapchat. My 16-year-old daughter is pretty much glued to it so I’m avoiding it out of respect.

While I didn’t exactly predict the demise of Spectacles, I was sceptical they would be accepted once people realised they were pretty much Google Glass with funky colours. Perfect for perverts in public toilets and for invading your privacy in restaurants up and down the country.

Then the vending machine landed. Near me. Holy snap! Grab your coat, we’re off...

Snapchat did that smart thing we all wish we could do – it released its product with almost irritating randomness by dropping vending machines around the US with no prior warning. It instantly created intrigue. I didn’t want a pair of Spectacles until that damn vending machine landed not half-a-mile away from me while I was at SXSW. Eight minutes and 37 seconds later, I was in the queue, credit card in hand.

The machine is hard to miss – bright yellow with bright yellow balloons on top. Just insert credit card (no Pin required, this is the US), select a colour and out pops a pair of Spectacles, ready to go.

We left in the hire car for breakfast. I wore my Specs and essentially recorded my hands on a steering wheel. Riveting. We entered the diner. I took off my Specs. This was Texas, I didn’t want to get punched. And that was how my day progressed. Sneaking dull, ten-second videos in between longer bouts of feeling deeply inappropriate. Meetings with friends, drinks in a bar, work meetings and public transport all felt too awkward for me to press that little button and start the forward-facing record light flashing.

My job is to misuse things and join dots that weren’t supposed to be joined.

Day two was sunny. I actually needed sunglasses. Everyone was wearing sunglasses. This was my moment. And nobody noticed. I went inside – people started to notice. Well, of course they did. I was wearing sunglasses indoors. 

Over the next day, I learned that most people (about 80%) didn’t know what the Specs were so didn’t notice them anyway. The other 20% knew and could be divided into those who said "Cool glasses, bro!" and those who quietly leaned into a friend, pointed at me and frowned. Not laughing. That was important.

Now, I have a confession at this point. I don’t use Snapchat. My 16-year-old daughter is pretty much glued to it so I’m avoiding it out of respect. However, these are glasses that record video and I’ve realised that’s all I really wanted.

Cycling into work this morning, I recorded a few moments. I’ve just taken up clay-pigeon shooting so I’m looking forward to wearing these to capture my exact view as I miss each target. I’m getting back into climbing – they will be awesome for those ten-second action sequences.

I’m sure dedicated Snapchatters are horrified that I am one of the few people in the UK with a pair of Spectacles and I’m not using them properly. But, you know what? My job is to misuse things and join dots that weren’t supposed to be joined.

If or when Spectacles come to the UK, I only have two pieces of advice. First, if you can remotely afford them, buy them – they are worth it. Second, get the black ones.

Dino Burbidge is the director of technology and innovation, WCRS