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Move over Snap: Facebook is the camera company to beat

It’s the platform, stupid

Just as the world finally figured out why Snap relabeled itself as a camera company, last week Facebook proclaimed it’s not just a camera company, it’s a camera company built on the world’s ambitious augmented reality platform.

Let’s add some perspectives to their F8 announcements:

Recently, Facebook has put its camera front and center in its various properties (not just Instagram, but also Facebook, Messenger, and WhatsApp). For instance, in Messenger, this changed the traditional texting workflow, which normally starts with the user selecting a person with whom they want to text. Today they can click the camera, take a photo, embellish it, add text, and send the visual message to the friends with whom they decide to share it – very much the same workflow as in Snapchat and Instagram. As Mark Zuckerberg said at F8, “the camera needs to be more central than the text box in all of our apps.”

The camera is the new platform
Mark Zuckerberg makes it clear…

As an aside, the photo enhancements include the AI-based transfer style type effects popularized by apps like Prisma, but which Facebook now claims to be able to generate in virtually real-time.

At F8, Facebook announced their ambitions to provide an AR platform on top of the camera – going substantially beyond overlaid graphics, such as Pokémon Go creatures or the face-attached masks we see in Snapchat videos.

For some context, first a bit of AR background. AR superimposes digital content onto how the user views the real world. Through Google Glass, the user viewed their surroundings, while a menu showed helpful information in the margin of their view. But Glass was a geeky thing and required the user to buy a new (and expensive) device.

More recently, Pokémon Go scored high by allowing their players to view the real world with superimposed digital content based on their geo-location – on the device they always carry along: their GPS-enabled and camera-equipped smartphone.

Note that neither Google Glass nor Pokémon Go overlays digital content based on an analysis of the actual imagery that the viewer sees.

While AR glasses, or better, contact lenses eventually are the vehicles through which Facebook plans to offer their AR tools and services, the company learned from the runaway Pokémon Go successes and decided to take a step back by starting in the here and now of smartphones – while making the AR more sophisticated than the digital overlays provided by Google Glass or Pokémon Go. Facebook uses shape detection and object recognition technologies to superimpose 2D and 3D graphics in real-time onto what the consumer’s sees through their Facebook Camera app. So far, that’s all very similar to Snapchat’s Lenses.

But Facebook wants to go beyond virtually enhancing real objects. It will let you create standalone 3D virtual objects and include these in your videos or photos as well, and – no surprise, being a company that virtually makes all its money from advertising – by overlaying information relevant or enticing to what the user is viewing.

Facebook AR

Picture source: TechCrunch

And the way to do this is by not simply relying on Facebook’s own developers and designers to come out with more and more content and tools, but to empower developers and non-developers to do so. Facebook is building an AR platform.

At F8 Facebook announced its AR Camera Effects Platform for developers, which lets developers build AR products that are accessible through the smartphone’s camera. It also announced Frame Studio, a tool for anyone with a creative inclination to design AR overlays for the Facebook Camera.

Gone are the days when innovative tools for the next waves of creative expression came from the likes of Adobe or Apple, companies that can’t (or have chosen to no longer) keep up with the breakneck speed with which creative expression tools are developed by social media networks and mobile developers.

Facebook’s camera AR platform approach is drastically different from Snap’s “we do it all ourselves” strategy, which has included cracking down on developers who tried to build solutions on top of Snapchat.

As someone who has not only extensively worked for but was also charged to recruit platform-supporting developers in the past, I understand the wisdom of Facebook’s strategy to reach out to the developer community as a means to accelerate their camera AR innovation. But its success will really depend on how well they will empower developers to pursue their business goals – and generate money by doing so.

Hear more about Facebook’s developer initiatives at Mobile Photo Connect, October 24-25 in San Francisco!

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A few more things…

Facebook. Call it proactive rendering of 360 imagery: Facebook is improving the 360 video experience by predicting where you will look.

Facebook. Way out there: Facebook is building brain-computer interfaces for typing and skin-hearing.

Facebook. RAs running AI locally on smartphones is key to real-time applications, Facebook announces Caffe2: like Google’s TensorFlow, deep-learning framework Caffe2 can be used to program artificial intelligence features into smartphones and tablets, allowing these to recognize images, video, text, and speech and be more situationally aware.

Facebook. Overview of most F8 announcements.

Instagram. Instagram is seeing continued growth in the number of people using its Snapchat Stories-like feature. Five months after launching, the company revealed that 150 million people were using Instagram Stories daily. And four months later, that number has grown to 200 million.

Android. For the first time ever, Android has bested Microsoft Windows as the world’s most popular operating system, according to fresh findings from Web analytics firm StatCounter. In March, Android topped the worldwide OS Internet usage market share with 37.93%, which put it marginally ahead of Windows (37.91%) for the first time.

Fujifilm. Fujifilm’s SQ10 Instax Square camera is now an instant/digital hybrid camera, and supports in-camera filters and saves files to microSD cards. It also offers auto exposure control, facial recognition, and autofocus. A good step forward, but we’re eagerly awaiting more direct integration with the world of smartphone apps.

Facebook and Instagram. It has been five years since Facebook got the bargain of the century – Instagram for roughly $750 million. The mobile photo sharing service at that time had a mere 35 million monthly active users. It has since added more than 600 million monthly active users.

GoPro. GoPro announces GoPro Fusion, its long-awaited 360° action camera. Nice touch: its 5.2K resolution supports OverCapture, a feature that lets users go back and carve out a standard video file from the spherical footage. Essentially, GoPro is building a camera that lets users record literally everything and then select the best framing later.

Photo by Anders Ljungberg

Author: Hans Hartman

Hans Hartman is president of Suite 48 Analytics, the leading research and analysis firm for the mobile photography market and organizer of Mobile Photo Connect, a yearly industry conference about mobile photography.

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