“If you take one thing away—this is it,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook’s (FB) F8 developer conference in San Jose, Calif. “We’re making the camera the first augmented reality platform.”
Augmented reality first broke onto the mainstream last year with Pokémon Go, which harnessed the smartphone camera to integrate a videogame with reality. Looking through the phone screen, players could see game characters appear in the real world.
Facebook is putting a tall stack of chips on this technology, and Zuckerberg said that augmented reality will “change how we use our phones and eventually all of technology.” In other words, this is a big deal.
On stage on Tuesday, Zuckerberg demonstrated the potential for this augmented reality. Launching in beta on Tuesday, the new product is an open-source platform where users can make and use filters and annotations, and whatever other things people may want to layer onto reality. Already, many Snapchat users are familiar with some of these types of augmented reality, with filters that change the appearance of the subjects, like adding bunny ears, a mask, or more.
Facebook’s vision, however, goes far past what Snapchat currently has currently. Zuckerberg showed different functions like creating virtual objects in a real space, providing an information layer like word bubbles or other annotations to real life, and enhancing reality.
According to Zuckerberg, different use cases for the AR platform could be leaving detailed notes for friends in restaurants marking a favorite table, playing a game in a waiting room with other people that utilizes a table as a game board, or having “augmented reality street art.”
All of this requires a high level of technology, location pinpointing and more, something that Facebook teams are working on to map spaces from images and video. “This isn’t just about finding a Pokemon in a one-block radius,” said Zuckerberg. “You need a precise location.”
Much of these use cases fall under the category of “who needs or wants it,” especially for the street art, which wouldn’t be out of place in a scene from the show “Silicon Valley.” According to Zuckerberg, from the outside it looks as if people at Facebook HQ have been “gathering around looking at blank walls.” But the 32-year-old Zuckerberg, whose vision has net him $59 billion, is taking the long view. “It’s going to take a long time,” he said. He also alluded to this technology getting out of the phone and into a more viewer-friendly product, like glasses. “This is going into glasses we all want, and this is another step on the path.”
Whether the current thought-up use cases are silly or compelling, this play falls squarely within Facebook’s standard strategy: focusing on the platform. Instead of showing users how to use their products, the company will let the creative force of its billion users handle the content and show the company how their platform should be used.