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Snapchat AR – a portent of doom?

Posted by Ben Smith on 7th September 2016

Before I begin, a disclaimer: I don’t ‘get’ Snapchat.

Of course it doesn’t help that I’m incredibly old and boring, but why on earth putting pre-set filters and ‘lenses’ over photos of yourself is so endlessly fascinating is a mystery to me.

Even when a helpful colleague recently tried to explain to me what was so great about Snapchat the app didn’t even recognise me as having a face and so the potential joy of seeing myself with virtual rabbit ears (or whatever) was lost. A true tragedy of our age I’m sure you’ll agree.

Scandalous personal snub aside, this week brings yet more baffling Snapchat excitement – the app developer is rumoured to be working on building its own augmented reality (AR) glasses.

What fresh hell is this? Just when you think the world dodged a bullet when everyone seemed to realise that Google Glass was a terrible idea, along comes someone else with the same terrible idea. No doubt we will soon be informed of how wonderful the Snapchat goggles are and how they are completely different to those other terrible versions of the same idea, with the expectation we’ll simply smile and nod and hand our money over.

This is not to say I am opposed to AR as a technology. Indeed, I can see enormous potential for it in specific use cases – particularly in industrial and manufacturing settings, for example. In that respect, I actually think the Hololens is far more interesting than AR that is intended purely for consumer applications.

And that’s my issue with the rumours surrounding Snapchat. When it comes to a full-on consumer AR device like Google Glass I simply cannot escape the feeling that for all the promises of the wonderful possibilities, it is actually just a hellish vision of a dystopian future (a dystopian future like this terrifying video perhaps).

I am also saddened as this news comes swiftly after the announcement that Google has suspended its work on Project Ara – its attempts to create a completely modular smartphone. So a genuinely novel and interesting project is shelved, while a superfluous hardware add-on for a fatuous app marches on. These are strange times we’re living in I guess.

But before the inevitable hype for the Snapchat goggles ramps up, it’s a useful time to stop and think. Is the idea of everyone walking around with an AR device strapped to their face really that great an idea? Have you not seen WALL-E?

To paraphrase – perhaps the Snapchat team is too busy wondering whether they can, rather than whether they should….

Ben Smith

Ben’s deep knowledge of sectors as diverse as electronics and IT, cleantech and medtech means he has a wide range of experience to draw on for his clients – ensuring that no two campaigns are the same. Ben’s expertise lies in helping his clients to raise their profiles beyond trade media and he has a proven track record in running campaigns that deliver coverage in national, business and consumer publications.