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For Snapchat, Name Change Signals Expanding Ambitions


The death of wearable technology has been severely overstated. A year after Google announced it would stop selling Google Glass, Snapchat has created eyeglasses that can record video. They'll sell for a tenth of the price - about $130. Snapchat became a tech giant over the last five years with its social media platform that lets people send photos and short videos that quickly expire. Now the company is changing its name and expanding its ambitions.

Seth Stevenson is a reporter with WSJ Magazine and was the first to report on the video sunglasses. He joins us from New York. Welcome, Seth.

SETH STEVENSON: Thanks for having me on.

SHAPIRO: Before we get to the glasses, describe this moment for the company. It's no longer going to be called Snapchat, just Snap.

STEVENSON: Yes, Evan Spiegel is very eager to call it Snap because it implies...

SHAPIRO: He's the CEO.

STEVENSON: He is the CEO of what is now Snap Inc. He's excited that there are going to be more products than simply Snapchat the app. And the first of those is Spectacles, these video glasses. And I think there will be more products on the way.

SHAPIRO: And you write that Snapchat - well, Snap - is no longer pitching itself as a social media company but that the CEO sees it as a camera company. Explain that.

STEVENSON: He emphasizes that the app opens up to the camera, and that encourages the user to start immediately taking pictures and sending them and doodling on them and how that allows us to communicate in pictures. And he views that as making Snapchat more of a camera company than simply a social media company.

SHAPIRO: Commercially speaking, why might it be in a company's interest to go from being a social media platform with millions of users to being a camera company?

STEVENSON: I think that part of it is about controlling the camera, and that's part of why they've introduced this new product because Snapchat had previously been a bit at the mercy of the camera in your cell phone, and now with these new video glasses, they actually control the lens.

And I think it's a bit of a Trojan horse, where eventually if you can control the lens, you'll know a lot about the person who's looking through that lens. You'll know where they are, what they're looking at, what the weather is outside. And then you can use that information to perhaps sell them things or allow them to make transactions. And so I think it's the start of a sort of broader strategy for snapping.

SHAPIRO: So tell us about these Spectacles, these video glasses. How do they work?

STEVENSON: So they look pretty much like normal sunglasses, but they have a little button near the hinge. And when you've got them on, you can press that button, and it'll record 10 seconds of video from your first-person perspective. And the video recorders as circular sort of like the way we see the world is circular.

And the idea is that you'll have your hands free. And let's say you're being active. You're skateboarding, or let's say you're at an outdoor concert, watching the band. This will be a more natural way of recording video and sharing the things you're experiencing. And because it's from your first-person vantage, it really feels like your experience, the thing that you saw, how you experience the world.

SHAPIRO: Are you convinced this will actually become a big thing?

STEVENSON: I am not a hundred percent confident that this will become a huge thing. You know, it depends on whether people are able to fit in their lives and it's fun for them. Do you look too dorky wearing these glasses? Are people going to make fun of you and say, hey, quit wearing those glasses; I don't want to be filmed.

I think the thing for Snap is that this is a bit of a lark, and it's a bit of testing something out and trying something. And I don't think they are betting the company on this, nor do I think it is guaranteed to be a success.

SHAPIRO: That's Seth Stevenson, reporter with WSJ Magazine. Thanks a lot.

STEVENSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.