Called “Weishi”, Tencent’s smart glasses include a camera in the front corner which enables users to film from a first-person perspective. Just like Snap’s Spectacles.
For comparison, here’s what the latest version of Snap’s Spectacles device looks like:
Pretty similar, right?
But what’s particularly interesting here is the potential implications that Tencent’s glasses may actually have for Snapchat – rather than being a knock-off, Tencent’s development could be beneficial for Snap. Tencent holds a sizeable stake in Snap after buying up shares last November, and has sought to partner with the company in the past.
The added development resources of Tencent, in relation to smart glasses, could, by extension, provide benefits for Evan Spiegel’s company – or maybe even through partnership on the device.
It seems fairly obvious that Snapchat had always intended for its Spectacles product to be more than just camera-equipped sunglasses. Patents have indicated that Snap planned to provide augmented reality overlays through the device, and additions like World Lenses, which place digital objects over real-world scenes, or even Snap’s AR art installation project, suggest that Spectacles were designed for more, but that Snapchat likely ran into limitations on what they could actually produce.
Snap has never said this, but it seems that way. Snap changed its tagline to ‘a camera company‘ shortly after the Spectacles launch, and its emphasis, at least for a short time, seemed to be shifting away from Snapchat the app, in the face of increasing competition from Facebook.
But smart glasses are hard. Even Facebook, with its practically unlimited capacity, has said that its version of smart glasses, currently in development, could be years away from launch.
It does seem, however, that Snap Inc. needs smart glasses to give it that next push. As per Snap’s latest earnings report, the company is improving its business performance, but it’s still far off profitability. At its current growth rate, Snap will run out of money before it can start making a profit, which could see it on a path for demise.
Unless it can get Spectacles on track – an AR-enabled version, not the interesting but ultimately not that great camera-enabled sunglasses.
Tencent’s development resources, and massive user base, could help in this regard.
While Chinese analysts are skeptical that Tencent’s glasses will take off, Tencent operates the region’s dominant messaging app, WeChat. WeChat now has more than a billion active users, so if Tencent can get even a portion of them interested in its smart glasses, the revenue potential could be significant. That would then lead to further investment in development – and important to note, Tencent’s market capitalization climbed to $572 billion in January, surpassing even Facebook (it has fallen since then, but the two are still comparable).
As reported by TechCrunch, Tencent has offered counsel to Snap CEO Evan Spiegel on product strategy in the past, and it’s very possible that Tencent could have arranged a deal with Snap on the development of its Weishi glasses. That arrangement could, potentially, involve combining their resources on the next iteration of the tool, if it proves popular in China.
And that could mean that an AR-enabled version of Spectacles is still very much on the cards – and could be developed before Facebook’s able to launch its version.
Could that get Snapchat back on track? I would definitely not bet against the combined resources and innovation of Tencent and Snap. If this is a partnership of sorts, things could get very interesting for Snapchat within the next year.