The Hellscape of Waiting 5 Hours in Line for Spectacles

By Christina Warren on at

I am such an asshole. That is the only conclusion I could come to after waiting five hours in line for two pairs of Snap Inc.’s new Spectacles—sunglasses with a camera attached that work with Snapchat—in New York City on Thursday.

Back in September, social network Snapchat changed its name to Snap Inc. and formally started to rebrand itself as a camera company. The most auspicious part of that effort was the news that Snap would sell its own hardware: Spectacles. Google Glass-like in nature—but at a much more affordable price—Snap started rolling Spectacles out in various parts of the country in waves, selling them via Minion-like Snapbot vending machines. One landed in Venice Beach last month and others have appeared in a handful of different locations. Customers are allowed to buy two pairs of Spectacles each, which sell for $130 (about £100) and come in three colours (black, pink, aqua).

Because there are so few Snapbots and they’re only open for a day at a time, some are paying others to wait in line for them. And resellers are putting them on eBay for two to three times the retail price. An average pair on eBay is selling for $300 (around £235) and slightly less on Craigslist.

Last week, Snap opened a pop-up store on 5th Avenue in New York City that will sell Spectacles until New Year's Eve. This is the only semi-permanent Snapbot location, which makes it one of the few places you can be guaranteed to get a pair. It’s open from 4pm - 10pm on weekdays and 6am - 12pm on weekends. A lot of tech reporters braved the queue last week, but I honestly couldn’t be bothered. “There is no way I’m going to wait hours in line for some stupid glasses,” is something I may have actually said out loud.

But I am a liar and an asshole.

In spite of my own thoughts about the, well, spectacle of Spectacles, when I found myself near the pop-up on Thursday afternoon, I couldn’t help but try my luck. I figured that after the first week of excitement, the queue must have died down and I’d get in and out fairly quickly.

As I approached the pop-up store, I was heartened to see a relatively small queue outside. I attempted to join it and was then told by a nice security minder that actually, the queue started at the end of the block.

Snap’s NYC pop-up is at 59th and 5th Avenue, but the queue actually started at 59th and Madison. It spanned an entire city block at 5pm when I decided to jump in.

The first rule of queuing for anything is to have entertainment. I had my iPhone and some headphones, so that was a good start. For the first hour, I spent my time listening to a Gilmore Girls podcast (no, the irony that there is a storyline about queuing on the most recent Netflix series is not lost on me) and texting Gizmodo co-workers about how dumb it was that I was doing this.

The second rule of line waiting is to make friends. The people behind me weren’t much for talking, but a guy and girl in their mid-20s in front of me were chatty. Like me, both are total gadget freaks (the guy spent his time in line setting up his new phone). The girl actually already had Spectacles. She came on Wednesday and braved the rain for three and a half hours. Her plan was to buy two pairs to barter with friends. “Maybe I can get a Nintendo,” she told me. Her male friend admitted he’d snuck out of work just to get Spectacles.

Surprisingly, most of the people in line weren’t resellers (though most people I talked to admitted they will probably sell their second pair). According to the line guards, the resellers show up early, around 10:30 or 11. The crush of regular Joes looking to buy some sunglasses with cameras on them starts to filter in around 2:30 or 3:00.

The queue moved slowly, but it first. At 6:30 (queue time, 90 minutes), the queue guards started to hand out bracelets. There is a multi-step authentication process to get Spectacles. You get a bracelet, and then later, a hand stamp. You must have both to enter the store, where the Snapbot actually exists. This is done as a way to prevent people from cutting the line or waiting and then letting a friend take over. I got my stamp at 90 minutes.

At this point, the girl behind me decided to to to the bathroom. My queue friends had someone bring them food. Throughout the evening, I saw plenty of people getting sustenance delivered.

At 7:00, I started to realise I probably wouldn’t wind up making drinks with my best friend. I’m sorry Aly, I love you.

At 7:30, we were now halfway to the store. Those of us in line were frequently asked by passersby why we were waiting in line. “Snapchat glasses,” I would say to the shocked denizens. “Seriously?” a woman responded and then laughed. “I’m an asshole,” I truthfully replied.

A guy driving an Escalade drove past the line and while stuck in traffic decided to scream at us about how stupid we all were. “You’re all fucking sheep! You’re all losers!” he bellowed. “Fuck you! Like your life’s so great,” a gruff New Yorker who looked to be in his mid-40s a few people behind me bellowed back.

After running out of podcasts and with the weather dipping below 50 degrees, the fact that I’d been queuing for three hours without gloves was starting to sink in. Also, what the hell was taking so long!

It turns out, according to the line staff, that the Snapbot can be temperamental. Sometimes it doesn’t like to read people’s credit cards and that creates a giant bottleneck.

The queue itself had several segments. There was the massive queue that ended at Madison Avenue, a separate line about halfway to 5th Avenue, and then a third smaller one right in front of the store itself. At 8, I finally reached the line outside the store, where I could look at the warm people waiting in front of me.

At 8:25, I finally got inside the store. Now it was just 100 or so people to go.

Inside, the store was completely sparse, save a bunch of rotating televisions playing Spectacles video on a loop. There were also dozens of cameras in the ceiling, which was very creepy. I asked one of the queue guards about the cameras. They shrugged, but I have to assume it’s security related. Or maybe Evan Spiegel just wants to spy on everyone. The music was very Southern California hipster (James Vincent McMorrow, Metronomy, throw-back M.I.A.). About five minutes after I entered the store, everything came to a standstill because the Snapbot needed to be restocked.

The restocking process is the most superfluous, whimsical thing I’ve ever seen. The staff pulls a huge grey curtain in front of the Snapbot, dims the lights and then a countdown timer appears on the rotating TVs to show how long it will be until it is filled. Ten minutes later, purchasing can resume.

An hour after entering the store, the line was finally down to 15 people ahead of me.

This was also about the time I started to really question why I was spending so much time in line for glasses I have openly said look lame. I could try to rationalise the process and say that I am able to write about the experience and that it’s good for Gizmodo to have a pair of Spectacles to play with. But the reality is that I came and waited in line of my own volition for a toy.

I’m such an asshole.

The Spectacles queue isn’t the first time I’ve done this whole thing. I once waited eight hours for an iPhone 4 I’d already reserved (thanks, AT&T). I did a solid six hours to get an iPhone 5 from the 5th Avenue Apple Store. And I’ve done queues for the iPad, iPad 2 (at a special SXSW pop-up, no less), and even the iPad 3. I even once queued for three hours for a Cronut. Of all the queues, the Cronut was definitely the worst; Apple queues, back in the day, used to have a sense of community and camaraderie.

That’s what was interesting about the Spectacles queue. Most of the people were ostensibly there to buy these glasses for themselves or for someone as a present, but I didn’t get the feeling that they intensely loved Snapchat. This wasn’t like a line for an iPhone or a pair of Yeezys, or even the opening of the latest David Chang restaurant.

So why wait? “Because it’s so cool,” was the answer I heard the most.

Spectacles aren’t the first attempt we’ve seen at smart glasses, but it is the most savvy, and the most realistic. “This isn’t like Google Glass,” my line friend remarked. “Those were too expensive and they looked dumb.” And the cost of time aside, $130 for a gadget that lets you take videos with your eyes is compelling, especially when you think about what this means in the broader space of augmented reality.

Finally, at 9:52, I was next.

The minion vending machine itself is actually pretty cool, as you can preview what the glasses will look like on your face. Then you select your colour, swipe your credit card, grab your stuff, and go.

Image: Christina Warren/Gizmodo

At 9:55, I finally emerged from the store with two pairs of Spectacles.

Another 45 minutes later, I was finally home. Ready to try these things out.

I’ll have more in-depth impressions later, but my first instinct is that this is an impressive product. Not only are they high quality (the plastic feels solid!), the charging case has some cool tech going on. They look a bit big on my face and my husband thinks the coral (pink!) colour is ridiculous.

But was it worth five hours in line? Barely.

I’m still such an asshole.