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The Verge 2016 tech report card: Snap

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snap spectacles

Snapchat's the cool kid in school. So on trend, that in 2016 it decided to go by its nickname "Snap" to disassociate itself from chat. It worked for Cher when she dropped the "Sonny &," and it worked for Apple when it dropped "Computer" to more closely align with its broader ambitions.

Snap is already slinking its way into consumer electronics with the launch of the brilliantly marketed Spectacles in November. The colorful $130 sunglasses were initially only available from a single bright yellow vending machine in Venice Beach, California. Lines formed immediately, driving the price up to several hundred dollars on the grey market. Even now, more than a month later, supply is so constrained and demand so high that the specs still sell for nearly double the price on sites like eBay. Snap's not making iPhone money off the effort yet, but it sure is stoking desire. And its timing is impeccable.

Last month, Reuters said Snap had filed for an initial public offering with the hope of being valued at over $30 billion when it debuts in 2017. Back in May, Snapchat was valued at just $20 billion — but well above the $3 and $4 billion bids offered by Facebook and Google, respectively, back in 2013. Expectations are certainly high, as they should be. This "decacorn" attracts an estimated 150 million active users each day, about 60 percent of whom are aged 13 to 24 — a demographic that's very attractive to advertisers. Just imagine those 150 million users wearing Spectacles to the beach where they pull their official Snapchat towel out of their official Snapchat backpack. You can see why investors are stoked by Snap’s diversified sources of revenue as it closes out the year.

Snapchat

Snap's been so successful this year that it attracted the attention of the bully in the social media schoolyard: Facebook. Facebook has a long history of copying Snapchat features but things accelerated in August. That's when Facebook introduced Instagram Stories, a near-perfect replica of Snapchat's three-year-old stories feature. Facebook then added Snapchat-like photo filters to the camera on the main Facebook app in October, and to the Messenger camera in December. It's now testing stories inside the Messenger app.

Refreshingly, Snap hasn't copied either Facebook or Twitter, who both give celebrities and "influencers" undue sway over their platforms. Snapchat stories aren't dominated by the Instagram and Vine types who are paid to look like they're having fun with brands. True, Snapchat has given a few hundred accounts official story designations, but they aren't dropped into the Snapchat feeds and they're not artificially prioritized — you still have to follow celebrity accounts to see their stories. That's allowed Snapchat to feel more authentic.

It all reminds me of the Oscar Wilde quote that's rarely recited in full: "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness." In 2016, a year dominated by fake news on Facebook and nipple censors on Instagram, it's Zuckerberg that represents mediocrity and Snap that symbolizes greatness. Snap finished the year strong and 2017's looking even brighter — so bright, we’re gonna need those shades.

Verge 2016 Report Card: Snap

A

2016 Grade

Gold Stars:

  • Spectacles a promising new source of revenue
  • IPO announced amidst a wave of momentum
  • Celebrities and influencers on par with regular folk

Needs Improvement:

  • That UI though
  • Parents still convinced it's for sexting
  • Must continue innovating faster than Facebook can copy