Burning consumer confidence is a rite of passage that most companies seem eager to partake in. These defining moments can be anything from a trivial inability to assess the future to dishonest financial schemes. Most companies, at some point, will reach moments that will stick with consumers and leave a bad taste in their mouths.
More recently, Snap, the company behind Snapchat, announced that it would be laying off 20% of its employees and discontinuing its brand new Pixy drone, raising questions and concerns that had been simmering in my mind for a long time. What happens when a company introduces a product only to roll back a short time later?
You might not even know the company had made a small video-taking drone without a controller, because within four months of its announcement and start of sale, Snap canceled it. I got my hands on it fairly quickly and overall rated it favorably. I even packed it for an out-of-state vacation because I wanted to have one-of-a-kind memories – and it did!
Pixy, at launch, was far from perfect, but it had this magical quality that was worth considering. It was another opportunity for Snap to give its Snapchat users a way to get unique videos in its app. (Even non-Snapchat users could use it to the fullest.) It’s really hard to offer photography-related products that aren’t a mobile phone, but Snap did it.
As neat as Pixy was, however, it wasn’t going to be Snap’s new cornerstone. Its cancellation does not prejudice the company. It’s a small blip that might not register on most people’s radar. But, each time that happens, it’s like a game of musical chairs for consumers, and a chair is taken out of the circle. Every time a company ships a product and quickly says it’s okay, it snatches a chair from people who pay real money for its products.
Car thing and Pixy
Spotify officially launched its Car Thing in-vehicle music player in February 2022, then retired it within six months. This relatively quick airdrop of its first hardware will likely make future endeavors unappealing to potential buyers. I know my skepticism has increased a bit. Why risk money on a product that could be discontinued in less than a year?
The sentiment carries over to Snap as well. Even if Pixy were untimely, I will be very wary of future hardware releases. The company has big ideas, but physical products are not the core of its business. They are ripe to be abandoned first. Doubt even creeps into the thoughts of its software. Will risky app features disappear before they’ve had a chance? Should people be wary of getting attached to certain parameters?
Unlike Spotify, Snap has proven itself when it comes to hardware, albeit limited. It launched its Spectacles camera glasses in 2016, then made a second version in 2018. The first Spectacles were similar in limitations to Pixy’s. The second generation of goggles, however, were better looking, waterproof, and generally addressed a lot of the original concerns. I was hoping Pixy would get the same treatment and a second generation drone would address battery life and stability in the wind.
Hardware may not be a core business for Snap, but its eyewear and drone were a go-to product space for it to travel. The fable says that there is blood in the water where there is heavy fighting and so locating a place where the water is blue means finding an area with more freedom to compete. Snap was on it by making hardware that wasn’t a phone, that it didn’t have to compete with Samsung, Google, and Apple.
Even if ditching its drone means saving money now, Snap’s cancellation of Pixy destroys any real momentum it had in consumer hardware. It’s hard to find unique products that still have some creativity.
In 2012, Google announced a Nexus Q speaker system but never shipped it. Samsung once introduced a Bixby home speaker meant to compete with the HomePod, but consumers never got a chance to buy it. Even Apple announced a fancy wireless charger called AirPower that it never released.
It stings to know about promised products and to wait for them, only for those things to never become available. When this happens, it costs consumer loyalty immeasurably. This hurts all consumers a little. Over time, more and more people are hesitant to trust companies to deliver the products. The sting is even stronger for consumers who support companies like Snap and buy their products from day one.
Ultimately, some people will conclude that Snap should never have released a tiny photography drone with 5 minutes of flight time in the first place. For some, it was still a flawed product that wasn’t going to get a ton of support. I do not agree. Pixy has pushed the limits of drones further into the consumer space than almost anything that has come before it.
Pixy was a commendable company because providing more video and photo products makes Snap a stronger company. Unless that hardware unit was ultimately responsible for the company’s bankruptcy, I think Snap simply needed to hold onto the vision long enough not to burn trust with its early adopters. Plus, I bet the next generation of the drone could have been quite remarkable.