Is Snapchat Building A Phone?

Snapchat Phone New Engineering Telecom Hires
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What New Hires Say About The Next Big Thing In Hardware From Snapchat

Something big is on the horizon for Snap. Last week, Snap Inc. filed its IPO, and with the filing came some brand new information about Snap’s business and the state of Snapchat’s growth. Right now, Snap faces a critical juncture, and recent hiring suggests that what’s next for Snap is something big in hardware. Maybe it’s a brand new evolution of Spectacles, or maybe it’s something entirely new, like, say a Snapchat Phone.

As competitors like Instagram mimic Snapchat’s core features and its growth rates stumble amid the IPO, there’s been plenty of talk (some coming from Snap’s own S-1 filing) about the necessity of innovation as Snap moves forward. The August 2016 introduction of Instagram Stories, which functions much like Snapchat Stories, carved a large portion out of Snapchat’s QoQ growth in daily active users (DAUs). Prior to Instagram Stories, Snapchat’s growth saw reliable and consistent gains. Although growth continued for Snapchat in the third and fourth quarters last year, it dropped off dramatically, signaling possible problems for Snapchat if it doesn’t find a way to attract new users and keep its existing and growing user base deeply engaged in the platform.

For most apps, attracting new users means building new features into the app. And in all likelihood, Snap’s going to do some of that. To maintain one’s status as one of the top apps in the world means constantly changing and evolving, so new features in-app are a must. But new features aren’t enough.

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A Camera Company

Snapchat’s rebranded as a “camera company” and is making it increasingly clear that their business is more than just an app on our phones. Snap Inc. also released Spectacles via mysterious Snapbot vending machines last November, but demand and Snap’s S-1 filing for their IPO suggest that they’ll be getting a wider release.

Snap’s expanding foray into becoming a camera company probably won’t stop with the current iteration of Spectacles, though. Mediakix found that Snap’s hiring over the last six months (both domestically and in its new London office) hint at something big to come, and the titles of many of the new hires make it clear that it’s going to be in hardware.

Snap went on a hiring spree for employees in hardware engineering, telecommunications and manufacturing logistics starting in August of 2016. These included electrical, mechanical, prototype, hardware, interactive, RF/antenna, and NPI (New Product Introduction) engineers as well as CMF (color, metal, finish) designers, industrial designers, and mobile services specialists. Of the 36 new hires since August of 2016, 16 have pervious experience from Motorola, 7 from Apple, 6 from Google, 3 from HTC, and one each from Verizon and Nokia.

Snap’s not done, either — open positions for Electrical Engineer, QA Engineer, and Software Automation Engineer are currently listed for the Spectacles team on Snap’s site.

What’s Snap up to?

Some of these new hires are definitely on the Spectacles team, but others aren’t specified. It’s worth noting that engineers often work on wildly disparate products, sometimes in quick succession. It’s not uncommon for engineers and designers to move from wireless speakers to helmets to phones to cameras. That said, the previous experience of the new hires, particularly in hardware as it relates to mobile, and the sheer number of new hires suggests that there’s a team at Snap that’s working on something beyond Spectacles.

An evolution of Spectacles feels inevitable, whether by way of new features, enhancing capabilities, or including new recording options and functions. It’s also not hard to imagine that Snap’s next frontier in Spectacles might be AR, designing a product that doesn’t just capture and record, but fundamentally reshapes the way that we interface with content, from creation to playback. After all, catalyzing a fundamental paradigm shift in communication has long been Snap’s ambition, even before it rebranded as a camera company.

Snap’s hardware efforts may very well extend beyond Spectacles, too. A connected camera or even a kind of Snap VR rig certainly aren’t outside of the realm of possibility. But with deeply specific hires like antenna engineers, CMF designers, industrial designers, and a wealth of talent from the mobile industry, it begs the question: Could Snap be building a phone?
On the surface, it seems far-fetched, but there’s something of a precedent. In 2013, Facebook partnered with HTC for the HTC First (often referred to as the Facebook phone). The First was built around Facebook Home — a software interface that was intended to put Facebook at the center of the mobile experience, letting users post, scroll through their feeds, chat, and interact with people through the phone in way that was supposed to be more native (and therefore desirable than accessing the app).

The thing is, the Facebook phone was kind of a total disaster. People were mostly fine with using the Facebook app on the phone and didn’t see much reason to have a phone designed around Facebook. The phone didn’t sell and failed to captured much in the way of public interest, which is probably why you’ve either never heard of it or scarcely remember it.

Could Snap do better?

Maybe. On its website, Snap says, “We believe that reinventing what the camera represents our greatest opportunity to improve the way people live and communicate.” If Snap’s really committed to being a camera company, that represents something of a key shift.

If Snap can find a way to build a phone around a Snap OS that does reinvent the camera and provide consumers with something that disrupts the way we create, share, and communicate, maybe a Snap phone isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. If all of this new talent is going to culminate in phone hardware that challenges the way that we think about our relationship with our phones, maybe a Snap phone is poised to forever alter the mobile landscape and definitively position itself as so much more than a disappearing message app.

It’s too early to tell what, exactly, Snap might be working on, and the company is notoriously secretive. It’s true that if these new hires were working on something top-secret at Snap, it’s difficult to believe that their information would be as accessible as it is. Still, the new talent certainly points to big changes in Snap that are coming on the hardware side, and we’ll be watching.

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