More than five years after it launched its Spectacles, Snap is back with a second hardware product. And this time fly.
Yes, Snap made a drone. Called Pixy, the little yellow disk takes off from your hand, follows you around, and captures video that can be sent back to Snapchat. It’s Snap’s attempt at making a drone that’s a lot friendlier and friendlier than other products on the market — and it could hint at the more advanced, augmented reality future Snap is building toward.
Pixy is available online for $230 in the US and France as of Thursday. Unlike most drones out there, it’s small and light enough to fit in a pants pocket. There is no controller. It takes off and lands on an outstretched palm, and uses six pre-programmed flight patterns that can be accessed via a dial at the top of the device.
Why on earth would Snap, which primarily powers an ephemeral messaging app, create a selfie drone? It’s the first question I put to CEO Evan Spiegel.
“Because we’re a camera company,” he told me recently via video chat. Snap has been promoting this logo since 2016 when the company changed its name from Snapchat to Snap and released its first pair of Spectacles. “Our mission is to enable people to express themselves, live in the moment, learn about the world, and have fun together. And this product does just that.”
Spiegel has been interested in drones for years, dating back to at least 2016, when Snap started fiddling with how the devices fit into its camera company’s strategy. He almost got a Chinese drone company called Zero Zero Robotics at the time, but the timing was wrong. With Facebook aggressively copying its core Stories feature, investors were skeptical about Snap’s growth prospects as a new public stock, and the deal eventually collapsed due to price. The company is still not consistently profitable, but Snapchat is now growing much faster than Facebook and already has more users than Twitter.
So far, drones have not gone beyond professional use cases and early adopters. Most of them are heavy, noisy and expensive. Some even need a permit. Pixy’s main focus has been to make it easy to use with friendly fans and a design that can fit in your pocket. “We finally got to a place where we were like, ‘Wow, this is so much fun. “I think we should probably shoot it,” Spiegel says.
The Pixy weighs just 101 grams with its replaceable battery included. Snap says a full charge will save you five to eight flights, which can range from about 10 to 20 seconds — a short flight even by the standards of a small drone. Additional batteries cost $20, and Snap sells a portable dual-battery charger for $50. The 12MP Pixy sensor shoots up to 100 videos or 1,000 photos, all stored locally on a 16GB drive.
Snaps are synced wirelessly to Snapchat’s Memories section, edited there (it don’t capture audio, so Snap lets you use songs licensed from music labels), and then can be shared directly in the app or elsewhere. Snap has some Pixy’s own augmented reality effects to choose from, and I expect more to be added over time from the company and its creators. The auto-crop feature can quickly switch horizontal snapshots to the primary vertical Snap orientation, in the center of the main subject. The video quality isn’t amazing – it’s not something you want to view on a big screen – but it’s good enough to watch on a phone.
With its bottom-facing camera, the main trick of the Pixy is to take off and land in your hand. The front camera should line up approximately at eye level when you take off, then automatically track you as you go. When you’re ready to end the ride, just extend your hand to Pixy, and it’s back in the palm of your hand. During both outdoor and indoor testing, I found this to be the most impressive part of using the drone; It just works and induces a rare “wow” moment the first time it happens.
Spiegel sees Pixy as a new way to capture people-centric moments, a narrower view of how drones are traditionally positioned. “I think Pixy is opening up a whole new space here because your smartphone can’t fly,” he says. “You get a whole new and different perspective. That way, I think Pixy is purposefully better than what your smartphone can make.”
The Pixy stands out for its simplicity from the small drone competition. DJI has for years You’ve been building tiny drones that can take off from your hand and automatically follow you; These aircraft have a longer battery life and Higher quality video, very. But these competing models are also more expensive and more complex to use. And they’re still much bigger than the Pixy available in the pocket.
There are some other limitations to Pixy’s design. Since the device is so light, you won’t want to use it in windy conditions. Snap also advises not to use it over water and other shiny reflective surfaces that could confuse the bottom-up camera’s auto-flying.
Snap doesn’t plan to make a lot of money from Pixy. “The goal is really just to get it into people’s hands and have them play with it,” according to Spiegel. “And maybe we can do more with the second edition if people like the original.” If anything, Snap may have set its own expectations for the first release too low, he says. “Honestly, in hindsight, we probably should have done more. Now it’s tough with all the elements of the supply chain going. We just didn’t expect it to be this good.”
Back in 2016, before the launch of Spectacles, I noticed Snap was advertising business opportunities with the tagline “Games are the precursor to serious ideas.”
First coined by famous design duo Charles and Ray Eames, the phrase has since proven to be emblematic of how Snap works. What started as a texting app a decade ago, now has more than 330 million daily users, including 75 percent of people aged 13 to 34 in more than 20 countries. More than 250 million of these users interact with AR effects or lenses every day. Those lenses started by allowing people to puke out rainbows and wear dog ears. Now, they can solve mathematical equations and let you try on clothes.
Spectacles has never been a commercial success, and Snap In high demand For them at first, but Now they are complete augmented reality glasses which represents what many technologists represent, Including Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, we think it will be the next major wave of computing. Despite having a lot less money than Meta or Apple, Snap is the first with an unrestricted, working augmented reality headset and a thriving ecosystem of hundreds of developers making Lenses for them.
Spiegel sees Snap’s efforts as a way to push the boundaries of what a camera can be. It focuses on the camera because it is how people actually express themselves on mobile phones. “When we look at our approach to devices, it’s just about broadening the core of what people do and love on Snapchat,” he says. “One of the things that really changed our view of cameras was the hands-free Spectacles, because people made completely different things.” The camera that flies, of course, expands on this idea.
If Spectacles are any indication, Spiegel likely has several future generations of Pixy up his sleeve. He sees building hardware as a long-term commitment, especially on the part of augmented reality glasses — although he doesn’t see these hardware become mainstream years ago. “It’s something we’ve wanted to steadily improve over time because it’s so important in the long-term for our business,” he told me. “At the same time, there are a lot of technical limitations that exist today that mean it will be difficult for AR glasses to reach scale in the near term. And so I don’t think a wise approach for us would be to try to scale up for a product that is not yet ready.”
Ultimately, Pixy may be more successful in the near term than Spectacles, Spiegel believes. “After two releases of camera glasses, it became very clear that the market for camera glasses is actually very small and limited to people who want that first person POV,” he says. “I think the Pixy market is bigger.”
Coming into our conversation, I have a theory that Pixy, like the first version of Spectacles, is a Trojan horse for a bigger idea. Drones are already being used to create 3D maps, which will be useful for building more realistic lenses based on the real world. Explode, Explode It recently bought a French startup called NextMind Which made a headband to control computers with your ideas. Is there a future where I wear augmented reality glasses and control the Pixy glasses paired with my brain?
When I asked Spiegel about all this, he laughed, noting that it was the most I got from him on the record. Pixy is just a game, at least for now.
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