Facebook, Inc.’s FB Mark Zuckerberg and Snap Inc.’s SNAP Evan Spiegel have been on a collision course ever since Facebook tried to purchase the disappearing photo app startup in 2013. Now, their companies are about to square off in a battle for social media supremacy in the world of augmented reality as they try to make their smartphone apps the first widely-accessible AR tools.
Spiegel and Snapchat channeled the massive shift to mobile from the start by making conversations intimate, fun, and—more importantly—real. Facebook quickly integrated a camera into its mobile app and focused on how it could make the camera an integral part of its experience going forward.
Quick AR vs. VR Rundown
AR essentially superimposes images onto the real world. It’s related to virtual reality, which allows users to immerse themselves into in a computer-generated or fully 3D-video world. Both AR and VR have been around for years, but until now they haven’t been very affordable or accessible.
Snapchat’s geofilters that overlay pictures with names of cities, events, or marketing-related content have been around since 2014. But Snapchat first really pushed into AR with its selfie lenses over a year ago. The technology lets users alter their appearance by covering their faces with puppy masks or swapping faces with friends.
Last summer, Snapchat reportedly hired a Hollywood visual effects specialist in order to help the company push further into AR. The company’s next big move came with the introduction of its Spectacles in fall 2016. Snapchat Spectacles allow users to post videos and photos taken from their Snap-made glasses seamlessly onto Snapchat.
“Five years ago, we came to the realization that the camera can be used for more than capturing memories,” Spiegel told the LA Times in March. “We showed it can be used for talking. The dream for us is expanding the camera and what it can do for your life. It has capabilities beyond making memories.”
Yesterday, Snap introduced its new “World Lenses” that allow users to send photos or videos with special effects added onto the background of any location. Snap’s users are now able to add 3D objects and text onto any scene with the use of their rear-facing smartphone camera in order to “paint the world around you with new 3D experiences,” according to Snap’s official announcement.
Snap users simply tap the screen to look through the available World Lenses, which will be updated and changed on a daily basis. Aside from sending these AR videos and photos, users will also be able to walk through, under, or over any 3D objects they place in their surrounding while they look through their phones.
Facebook first showed outward interest in the AR and VR world when it purchased Oculus VR for $2 billion in 2014. Since then, Facebook has struggled to make money from the $598 VR headsets. But it was a long-term play into the possible future of entertainment.
Zuckerberg’s more immediate play into the AR world came on the same day that Snapchat introduced its second-generation AR experience. “We’re going to make the camera the first mainstream AR platform,” Zuckerberg said at yesterday’s annual F8 developer conference.
Facebook introduced its plans to give users the ability to leave superimposed digital messages anywhere for friends and family to read from their phones in the real world. Zuckerberg also showed off Facebook’s new AR tools that will allow users to look at massive digital artwork anywhere they go. “This is going to be a thing in the future—people standing around looking at blank walls,” Zuckerberg said.
While Snapchat gives its users the ability to superimpose fun and goofy 3D content and texts into their disappearing photos and videos, Facebook is ready to give their users a bit more. “You’re going to be able to swipe to your camera and swipe through the effects: face masks, art frames, style transfers,” Zuckerberg said. “But instead of a few options to choose from, you’ll have thousands to choose from.”
The company introduced “SLAM,” its AR feature that will enable users to play a superimposed virtual game in a real world setting. However, the platform is still in closed beta. Facebook also announced the beta version of “Spaces,” an almost completely interactive VR app for Oculus that will allow users to hang out with their friends via avatars and share real-world experiences in an immersive digital reality.
“Think about how many of the things around us don’t actually need to be physical,” Zuckerberg said last week in an interview. “Instead of a $500 TV sitting in front of us, what’s to keep us from one day having it be a $1 app?”
Zuckerberg has already spent plenty of time copying Spiegel, and now all of Facebook’s entities have some sort of feature that mimics Snapchat. But the tech world’s newest rivalry looks like it is ready to turn its focus towards augmented reality. How will it all play out? Only time will tell.
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