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Snapchat's new full AR glasses can map 3D effects onto the world

The AR social media app just announced its newest version of Spectacles. They're real AR glasses now.

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- 04:43
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Snapchat's newest Spectacles are full AR glasses with their own displays, and can show 3D effects and games.

Snapchat

After three versions of Snapchat Spectacles, the social media company has a new pair coming that are real AR glasses. The news was announced at Snapchat's developer-focused keynote Thursday. But while these glasses can display 3D effects onto the real world, are wireless, and have hand tracking, these new glasses are currently aimed specifically at developers and creators who want to use these to explore AR creation on headsets. No price is listed for them, and they're only available by application.

Snapchat has promised it's working on a full-featured pair of augmented reality glasses for a while. It's one of many companies including Facebook, Niantic, and Qualcomm that are trying to crack the idea of everyday smart glasses. Snap's previous versions of Spectacles were focused on being mainly wearable camera-glasses. Last year's Spectacles 3 could layer glasses footage with 3D AR effects, but the AR needed to be seen and shared via a phone app; the glasses didn't have their own displays.

The glasses promise 2,000 nits of brightness, have a 26.3-inch diagonal field of view and dual waveguide displays. They have a touchpad control on the side, and look like thick sunglasses. They use a "Snap Spatial Engine" and have hand-tracking, can track the world with six degrees of freedom, and weigh 134 grams (4.7 ounces), according to Snapchat. 

Another interesting feature: They're wireless, something other AR glasses this size haven't achieved yet. But there are tradeoffs, too. The glasses only last for 30 minutes on a charge, according to Snapchat's specs, and have a limited 480x564-pixel resolution for each eye. The glasses have their own charging case (and it sounds like you'll need it). 

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Snapchat

The glasses can launch AR camera effects called Lenses in-glasses and be used to play AR games. The field of view looks narrower than AR headsets like the Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap, but also are much smaller. The glasses can also capture video with two RGB cameras with a 115-degree field of view, at 1,920x1,440 pixels and 30 frames per second.

Snap has already been using these with a limited set of creators to build concepts and Lenses, according to the company's keynote. Release date and price aren't known yet.

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Clay Weishaar, a Snap creator who was one of the early few to try the glasses out.

Snapchat

What someone who's used it thinks so far

I spoke with Clay Weishaar, one of seven AR creators that Snapchat gave out early versions of the glasses to, to find out his impressions of using the device so far. What strikes me right off the bat is that these glasses can tap into Lenses and AR tools that are already being used by independent creators on Snapchat, which is a lot different than the more siloed and limited ways the HoloLens and Magic Leap initially approached their hardware.

"Snap's made it so you don't even change your workflow: you just put your glasses on, and you hit one button, and your vision is realized in front of you, which is super cool," Weishaar says. He sees location-based experiences and health and wellness as two areas of interest with these AR glasses. "I've used Headspace and these tools, and they're supposed to be relaxing, but you have to hold your phone up and you're actually getting fatigue," he says. "I really wanted to create this sort of relaxation and wellness experience inside of the glasses." Weishaar has worked in VR and AR before, but says he sees these wireless glasses as being more like other types of health wearables.

"You really don't notice a narrow field of view at all, because your head is tracked and the objects are tracked with you, so it really kind of stays in that view," Weishaar says of glasses so far, which have a more limited display area than other headsets like the Magic Leap or HoloLens. Weishaar says, compared to other headsets, that the big difference so far is the size and how lightweight they are. "The freedom of putting sunglasses on, it feels very casual. Even though it's geared towards creators, it feels very much like a consumer based experience ... the hands-free side of things is just a game-changer for me."

Weishaar sees a shift in how future Snapchat Lens development will adapt to these glasses, though: making experiences that are maybe longer, more like apps, and also don't involve people's own faces and facial-based effects. "The biggest shift with these are, you're creating an experience for people in real time to interact with AR in a physical environment, which is much different from content capture and sharing AR." He mentions possibilities for exercise apps using hand tracking, something I hadn't considered, but reminds me of ways the Oculus Quest is used for fitness.

The current glasses only have a 30-minute battery life, which seems like a calculated compromise to get to size and weight over performance. Maybe future versions will do better on battery, but it definitely seems like a major limitation. Or, it means they're devices you take on and off. But Weishaar has been using them seamlessly along with phone tools (the glasses work independently of the phone). 

He also says that so far, outdoors, the glasses' AR effects have worked really well. "It's more vibrant. If you've got a blue sky, and you look at AR in the sunlight, it's vibrant. That was one big thing I noticed. I walked outside and my mind was blown because I know how displays can get outdoors, as you do." Many AR headsets, like the HoloLens, have had a lot of trouble in the past making AR displays look good in bright areas. Snapchat's glasses, if nothing else, may have found a way of solving that.