Snap’s hardware team has seen a lot of changes this year.
Snap’s secretive hardware unit, SnapLab — the team responsible for its Spectacles photo and video sunglasses — has a new boss, its third in the past six months.
Sahil Sharma, Snap’s VP of hardware development who took the job in July when previous boss Mark Randall left, is also leaving the company, according to a Snap spokesperson.
He’ll be replaced in February by Steen Strand, who joined Snap a few months ago after more than a decade at Icon Aircraft, a company he co-founded that’s building private float planes. Employees were alerted on Tuesday.
Snap has had a lot of turnover in its hardware unit since Spectacles were first unveiled in late 2016. Strand will be the fourth person to run that team since last September. It’s never a good sign when there’s this much turnover on a single team, especially considering a report that Snap is building a third version of Spectacles due out before the end of the year. But it’s tough to determine how important this particular merry-go-round is.
On one hand, Spectacles are not a significant part of Snap’s business and have generated little buzz since the initial launch in late 2016. In Snap’s 2017 annual report, it said Spectacles “has not and may not generate significant revenue for us.” In fact, Snapchat cost the company an extra $40 million last fall because of “excess” glasses that it couldn’t sell.
On the other hand, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel believes the glasses fit into the company’s long-term plan. Snapchat’s core feature is communicating through a camera using pictures and videos instead of text. Putting the camera on your face instead of in your pocket could make that even easier in the future.
Perhaps more importantly, Spectacles give Snap a way to build and test augmented reality products, like the goofy masks that let you change your face into a dog or a vampire. Right now, those products are primarily fun, but there are many people in tech, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who believe that augmented reality glasses may be the future of how people communicate and get work done.
Spectacles are Snap’s very early effort to understand that technology, meaning the glasses are likely more important to Snap’s future business than its current one.
And what about a Snapchat drone? There have been reports that Snap has worked on a drone in the past, and now it’s bringing on a man who builds airplanes to run its hardware team. Is Snap thinking about building a drone, too?
“No, not at this time,” a company spokesperson said.
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