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Analysis: What is up with Snap?

Snap, the company, is an enigma. The company’s AR-powered social network/camera app is a phenomenon, yet the company itself isn’t turning heads. According to CNBC, Snap is laying off 100 engineers, accounting for 10 percent of the team. Not a great sign for an innovation-driven company. Previously, Snap has had layoffs in marketing, recruitment and content divisions.

The news comes on the heels of the rollout of an unpopular redesign of its pioneering photo messaging app, which now separates publisher and brand content from content posted by connections.

On the other hand, Snap appears to be readying another round of camera-enabled Spectacles, according to Engadget. This fall, the company is reported to bringing a second generation of Spectacles, despite the fact the initial batch cost the company $40 million. According to Cheddar, the new glasses will focus more on improved performance, and may include colors and waterproofing.

“But Snap is also reportedly going to release a third version that would include two cameras,” reports Engadget. “Given the popularity and functionality that dual cameras have provided in a growing number of smartphones, it makes sense to see Snap give this a shot in its own camera-focused hardware. Finally, Snap is considering partnerships with companies like Warby Parker to put its technology into their own glasses.”

Maybe Snap is a camera company

Arielle Pardes, writing in Wired, wrote an interesting analysis of Snap, the company, as opposed to Snapchat, the app. Entitled “Stop Calling Snapchat a Social Network,” Pardes writes about the continued challenges the company faces, with continuous copying of its innovations by Instagram and Facebook, as well as failures of the aforementioned Spectacles and the recent redesign. (Not to mention the stock plunge after Kylie Jenner dissed the app.)

Pardes notes the most in-demand features of Snapchat are the camera, not the social sharing features:

“The best part is the camera. It’s what taught a generation how to selfie, introduced the internet to augmented reality, and primed millions to experience the world through a lens. Even without all the AR bells and whistles, the camera and its filters just makes you look good. (Like, maybe even too good.) Snapchat can’t compete with Facebook or Instagram in terms of daily users, but there are 3.5 billion Snaps created every day. Name one camera that’s produced as many photos.”

To paraphrase our friend Haim Ariav: “Cameras are now apps.”

Yet, Snap is constantly evaluated as a social network. Certainly, because of its ad-based revenue model and thirst for user acquisition, Snap acts like one. Users often use Snapchat filters to create images that are posted elsewhere, including rival Instagram.

Pardes compares Snap to the pre-bankruptcy, Edwar Land-inspired Polaroid; saying they are both companies driven by “social and instant” photography:

“Snapchat and Polaroid have more in common than you may think. Both companies oriented themselves around a camera. Neither of them made any money selling hardware. Both imagined photography as something social and instant; both became a platform for trading nudes. And both had to stand up to rivals who brazenly copied their best innovations.”

Snap doesn’t enjoy the patent protection that led to Polaroid’s landmark $900 million windfall from its patent-infringement suit with Eastman Kodak Co. But it does enjoy a significant lead in the burgeoning AR marketplace; so much so, users don’t even know they are using augmented reality when they change their face or voice. Google, Facebook/Instagram, and Apple all trail Snap in engaging users in this way.

Pardes recommends Snap “[l]ose the features that make it look like a social network, and stop sinking costs into trying to chase the incremental iterations of the social media behemoths. Instead, focus on being the internet’s best augmented reality camera. Pour resources into improving the camera technology that made it great in the first place. Then someday, in the future, people will look back at selfies with the puppy filter and instead of calling it ‘AR photography,’ they’ll call it a Snap.”

What are your thoughts?


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