By Bobby Carlton
Although augmented reality (AR) isn’t yet widely used, people are already used to using their phones' through things like face lenses available on most social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook. For instance, you can tap a button and have dog ears attached to the top of your head, see rainbows flying out of your mouths, or use the technology to see how a new piece of furniture would look in your house.
Most people don't see AR as a revolutionary new technology. Instead, they perceive it as a combination of goofy filters and lenses that they can just launch from their phones a fun way to share content with friends, family, and followers.
During Snap’s Lensfest event this week, the company revealed that it has over 300,000 developers working on AR products for their Snapchat platform. These creatives have built over 3 million lenses, and they've been viewed more than 5 trillion times with numbers showing that AR is already finding a product-market fit.
Snap revealed that it is working with several developers to create products that allow users to purchase digital goods through its platform. These include in-game items and upgrades for their Snapchat lenses. The company's plan borrows ideas from popular gaming platforms such as Fortnite and Roblox.
The goal of Snap's new initiative is to help developers make money from their work, and it's also hoping that it will encourage them to continue building new products. According to Bobby Murphy, Snap's CTO, the goal is to make it easier for users to pay for the experience they're getting by giving them more opportunities.
Although it may seem like a small-stakes bet in the evolution of AR, Snap is well-positioned to capitalize on the potential of this technology. The company has a well-earned reputation for being able to create innovative products, such as disappearing messages and the Bitmoji. It's also not surprising that other tech companies would copy and distribute Snap's ideas. To prevent this from happening, Snap is focused on building the business and developing the product first.
The company's long-term success is dependent on the development of AR products. Although Snapchat face lenses are already a part of the technology's evolution, they're not the final form of AR. Instead, it requires the development of software and dedicated glasses.
“If I do choose to put a piece of hardware on my face,” says Qi Pan, Snap’s director of computer vision engineering, “it has to be adding value to my life almost every minute that I’m wearing it; otherwise, I will choose not to do it.”
Despite the various obstacles that face the company's development, Murphy is still positive that Snap will eventually reach its goal of making AR products. He believes that the technology is closer than he had thought it would be several years ago.
Over a year has passed since the latest iteration of Snap's Spectacles was first released to developers. Despite its shortcomings, such as its small field of view and limited battery life, Murphy believes that the company is on the right track.
The company's long-term success is dependent on the development of AR products. It's also important that Snap's strategy is right in order to avoid killing the company in the process.
Unfortunately, the current economic situation can prevent companies from achieving their long-term goals. For instance, we've Amazon make numerous cuts to its Alexa platform due to its inability to monetize it. Meta's decade-long bet on the metaverse has also contributed to the company's stock price decline, and in addition, even Snap has had to scale back on some of its other exploratory projects, such as the flying Pixy drone.
The monetization of AR is a major issue that the industry is facing, and it's also important that Snap and other companies follow the right strategy in order to ensure that the technology works. Currently, there are only a few things that the industry seems to know about AR. For instance, face lenses are a winner, and virtual try-on allows users to see how their purchases will look before they buy them.
People are starting to use AR to find information about paintings or sculptures in a gallery or monument. AR will eventually change in ways that nobody expected. Just as smartphones have led to various new industries, so will AR.
Just recently Qualcomm released their groundbreaking AR2 Gen 1 chip, the first chip designed specifically for AR that will help usher in a more sleek looking AR headset that will look like traditional glasses. Of course, don't need an AR headset to access Snapchat AR effects since they are launched using your phone, but having better glasses helps to push the technology forward.
Along with fun face filters, we have also seen brands turn to AR as a way to market products by letting you virtually try on makeup through a filter, or place an AR chair in the corner of your house to see how it would look. We've also seen the movie industry turn to AR to not only sell movie tickets, but to sell merchandise. For example when Star Wars: The Force Awakens was being released, Lucasfilm and Disney used AR to get people excited through their Find the Force campaign.
We're also seeing enterprise turn to AR as a way to give employees additional information and for things such as recruitment. Depending on how imaginative you can be, you can use AR in almost any situation.
In a recent Harvard Business Review report, it's being reported that "customers who used AR spent 20.7% more time on the app and viewed 1.28 times more products on average. More importantly, their likelihood of making a purchase during the session was also 19.8% higher than customers who did not use AR, providing some evidence that AR can help businesses increase revenues."
In the near term, Snap believes that real-world interactions through Snapchat AR lenses will be the most important aspect of its platform. The company has made it clear that it disdains the metaverse and believes that improving the world instead of replacing it is the best way to go. According to Sophia Dominguez, Snap's director of platform partnerships, the company's excitement about the future of AR is due to how it enables users to enhance the world around them by accessing a large library Snapchat lenses.
According to Murphy, Snap's Scan feature could become a real-world search engine similar to Google Lens. He believes that the company can learn from its mistakes and improve its understanding of the world in order to provide users with more relevant and timely information.
Snap is currently working on creating interactive Snapchat maps that will allow users to interact with objects using their smartphones. The company has already created detailed and interactive maps of various cities and landmarks. According to Pan, things will get even better as more people share their photos and videos.
In the future, Snap will also be able to generate and update models for cars so that they can interact with the world around them. It's currently working on making it easier for users to scan spaces in order to create their own world map.
Although AR is currently only a phone-based experience, a wearable revolution could have a huge impact on how it works. According to Murphy, the future of AR will be different from what it is currently because of how it will change both the frequency and the interface. He believes that people will still want the same things from AR regardless of the type of hardware that they use.
Despite the lack of knowledge about how AR will work, Murphy believes that Snap is still trying to build on its current understanding of the technology. The company is also working on developing new ideas that will allow it to improve the experience. One of the most important factors that the company is focused on is making sure that its users are comfortable with the basics of Snapchat.
“It’s important that we really get that right,” Murphy says, “but what each of those has allowed us to do is then create a much more flexible framework to then learn with many different types of AR use cases. When platforms succeed and fail, it’s whether the developers ... are able to monetize.”
The industry is starting to agree on the 10-year plan for AR, which is a world in which everyone will be wearing glasses and projecting various objects, such as video chat holograms, onto the real world. To be successful in this technology, the companies will need to get a lot of the right hardware and AI systems in place. In addition to that, they'll also need to experiment with different kinds of user interfaces.
The first fight that Snap will need to win is to figure out where all of this experimentation will happen. If AR is truly the successor to the smartphone, then it will only work with an entire industry to bring their Snapchat goals closer. The company's prize will be to develop an operating system that will allow it to run the future version of its app store.
According to Dominguez, the success of a platform depends on the ability of its developers and those building on it to monetize. So far, Snap has been able to gain an edge due to the success of its rainbow mouth and sunglass try-ons. If other companies can beat it to the punch, then Snap will be in trouble.
But for now, enjoy those Snapchat filters!