The company behind Snapchat is to release augmented-reality (AR) glasses that allow developers to project digital imagery directly onto what they’re seeing.

The fourth iteration of Snap Spectacles is the first to include an AR display that creates an immersive experience.

The previous three versions focused on capturing video or photos, which the user could then import into Snapchat to add AR effects.

The spectacles build on Snapchat’s well-known AR ‘Lenses’ that adds effects to users’ photos or videos of themselves.

Image credit: Snap

Popularity

The Lenses can also be used with third-party applications such as Zoom, which led to an animated cat-head filter gaining fame earlier this year after a Texas lawyer inadvertently found himself appearing as a cat during a remote hearing.

Snap is building on its success with such effects to move into the field of AR glasses, also coveted by competitors such as Apple and Facebook.

The new version of Snap Spectacles will not be for sale to just anyone, but instead will be offered to a “select group of global creators” in the AR field.

The company showed examples at launch including a projection of neon sea creatures on a real-world beach, an art gallery appearing in an urban basketball court and a guided tour with visual effects added onto a landscape.

“Tapping the vast potential of Snap’s AR platform, the next generation of Spectacles allow you to overlay Lenses directly onto the world in front of you, for an immersive AR experience,” Snap said on Twitter.

Image credit: Snap

Immersive display

The new device resembles a pair of angular black sunglasses, and includes two cameras, four microphones and stereo speakers, which also capture sound for video recordings and voice commands.

Users can interact with the display via a touchpad integrated into the side of the glasses, for instance switching from one Lens effect to another.

In part because of a bright display for use outdoors, the device only has a 30-minute battery life, although it can be recharged using a charging case.

The devices will be made available to an undisclosed number of the roughly 200,000 creators of Snapchat Lenses.

In 2016 Snap sold its first-generation Spectacles through bright yellow vending machines, later offering the device for sale online.

Image credit: Snap

Depth perception

A third generation in 2019 added a second camera for sensing depth, allowing users to add more complex effects to what they saw, although those effects still had to be added after importing the video to Snapchat.

Facebook is expected to debut its smart glasses with RayBan later this year, and industry watchers expect Apple to introduce its own AR/VR spectacles as early as 2022.

Ming-Chi Kuo of TF International Securities said he expects Apple’s device to weigh about 200-300 grams and to sell for around $1,000 (£700).

By comparison, Microsoft’s second-generation HoloLens, which is currently targeted at enterprise AR applications, weighs 566 grams and costs $3,500.

The fourth-generation Snap Spectacles weigh 134 grams, twice as much as the third-generation glasses – but still far less than HoloLens.

Image credit: Snap
Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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