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The Future Is People Waiting in Line to Buy $130 Glasses From a Cyclops Box

My day started with a mad dash to get a pair of Snapchat Spectacles. This is my tale.
November 21, 2016, 6:42pm
My pair of Spectacles. Image: Nicholas Deleon/Motherboard

Like every other weekday, this morning I woke up at 6am, fed my dog Winston, took a shower and got dressed, and sat on the couch for about 20 minutes watching the local news. Then Motherboard staff writer Jason Koebler tweeted me, shattering any notion of an ordinary Monday.

Yes, Spectacles had arrived in New York City. The first gadget to be released by Snap Inc. (the company formerly and better known as Snapchat), Spectacles are a pair of glasses with two built-in cameras for recording wide-angle "spherical" video that you upload directly to the Snapchat app. Snap the company has created an ingenious marketing strategy for rolling out its $130-per-pair glasses, making them available so far only in limited quantities through a bright yellow cycloptic vending machine called a Snapbot, which it has installed in a few other seemingly random locations around the US, appearing suddenly and inspiring lines of thirsty early-adopters. (There's even a countdown clock on the Snapchat website for when the next Snapbot vending machine will appear—where, again, is anyone's guess.)

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To be totally honest, my initial reaction was, "Oh ffs, do I really have to go wait in line now for these damn glasses?" So I sat there on the couch for a few more minutes, slouching as my friends at News Channel 4 told me to bundle up because it was going to be a cold and windy day. Great.

Follow the Snapchat Story of my adventures in buying Spectacles by scanning our Snapcode:

My second reaction was, "I don't even know where that is," referring to the location of the photo that Jason tweeted me. Luckily one of my friends, who also covers the tech beat, had figured it out: near the famed glass cube Apple Store on Fifth Avenue.

"Fine," I eventually said to myself. "Might as well have some fun this morning."

I quickly packed up my things, said goodbye to my loved ones—"I have to leave early because I have to wait on line for a pair of Snapchat sunglasses," I confessed to my confused girlfriend—and rushed over to the Queensboro Plaza subway stop, about a three minute walk from my apartment in Long Island City. The stop I needed, 5 Avenue/59 Street, was just two stops away, or about five minutes if the subway was operating on time (which, well, doesn't always happen).

What luck! As soon as I arrived on the platform a W train pulled into the station. I was on my way.

I got off the subway, emerged on the south side of Central Park, and started walking east toward Apple. Keep in mind, at this point I still had no idea where the heck I was actually going, only that the Spectacles pop-up store was vaguely near the Apple store. Also keep in mind that it was pretty cold—not exactly ideal weather for urban exploration. But off I went, and within just a few paces I was able to see the Spectacles banner in the distance. Phew!

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When I got to the pop-up store it was about 7:20am and there was maybe 10 people ahead of me outside the store. But inside the store was a much longer line, maybe around 50 people deep, that snaked around in on itself like an airport security line. The wait was… weird? In my experience very few people were talking to each other, despite being united in our quest for cool sunglasses, and were instead zeroed in on their phones. I personally felt very old while waiting because the music was so hip (I know for sure I heard the song that's in the opening credits of Portlandia) and everyone seemed so young; the crowd definitely averaged no later in age than their late 20s (I'm 30).

The wait inside the store took right around two hours. I spent the time tweeting out updates and talking to people who were desperate for more information. One youngster, who said he'd be graduating college next year, asked me on Twitter if he should take a three-hour bus to New York to pick up a pair. I don't remember what that kind of earnestness feels like.

What probably didn't help matters was that fact that so many people, including myself, had their attempted purchases denied by their banks. The word going around the line was that the vending machine was registered to Los Angeles, the home of Snap, Inc. so when people went to buy the sunglasses it triggered a fraud warning. I know that as soon as I attempted to buy a pair my bank (Citi) called me warning me of a possibly fraudulent transaction. So I had to move off to the side of the main line, hugging a wall, and approve the transaction with Citi on the phone. This snafu added about 10 minutes to the buying process. (My advice to people who plan to buy Spectacles from the NYC store: Call your bank ahead of time to get them to pre-clear the transaction.)

A word on the Snapbot vending machine: It's big and yellow, as if Spongebob SquarePants had come to life. You merely approach the machine, tap the big round button on the Spectacles you want (I bought two black pairs), insert your card, and wait. The vending machine then makes a bunch of bleeps and bloops, and then spits out your glasses, which come in a plastic tube.

The pop-up store in New York City will be up and running through New Year's Eve, with Snap, Inc. telling people to keep checking the Spectacles.com website to get exact hours.

For someone who's sent maybe three snaps in his life (outside of the Motherboard account) I actually am looking forward to trying these things out. At least they look good.