Social networking company Facebook has launched an augmented reality (AR) platform which will allow developers to generate custom filters and effects for the camera on a smartphone.
Speaking at Facebook’s annual F8 developers’ conference in San Jose, founder Mark Zuckerberg said the company sees AR, which mixes the real world with computer-generated images, as the next major computing platform.
Zuckerberg admitted that despite being “a little slow to add cameras to all our apps, I’m confident we are going to push this AR forward.”
The company has fallen behind the likes of Snap, owners of camera-based ephemeral messaging service Snapchat, which has long allowed users to enjoy AR features.
However, Zuckerberg was this week able to show off a host of new features, such as an effect that allows users to pretend to fill a room with water.
Most of the current features are fairly basic, though, and do not go far beyond the technology that lets users overlay sunglasses and summer hats or puppy ears over their face – features that are already offered by Snapchat.
Hosts of potential
Nevertheless, it is AR’s potential that most excites Zuckerberg and developers.
Reacting to the announcement, Geoff Blaber, vice president, Americas, at analyst firm CCS Insight recognized that “augmented reality and special effects have huge potential but the motivation is simple: make the everyday more interesting and encourage people to share more and therefore be even more engaged with Facebook’s products.
“Facebook has realized that even basic augmented reality experiences such as leaving a virtual post-it note for a friend in a bar or coffee shop can be incredibly compelling.
“The compute power in smartphones is making this technology more attractive than ever and there is such a huge installed base adoption could be rapid.”
The new AR platform gives developers access to tools that let them superimpose digital images on the physical world in the style of the Pokémon GO mobile game. It’s a tool that could easily benefit a number of industries. Home furnishings stores, for example, could help buyers who typically have difficulty imagining how new purchases might look in situ, in their own homes, by letting them see a computer-generated version.
Of greater benefit, perhaps, is that the platform will allow developers to layer information cards digitally onto the real world. This provides significant opportunity for the tourism market. In fact, Zuckerberg gave the example of visiting the Coliseum in Rome and holding up a phone to learn more about the history and structure of the building.
The technology could also help in retail environments, aiding visually impaired shoppers with signals and clues on how to navigate the store better. The potential is vast.
A new (virtual) reality boost to community
The conference seemingly marked a significant investment in AR over the much-hyped virtual reality (VR) technology, as Zuckerberg also confirmed that Facebook will continue to develop its own AR glasses to compete with Snapchat’s Spectacles.
“All the work is going to go into the glasses we want,” he said.
That said, Facebook did use the opportunity to launch a new social media VR function. The company has already invested heavily in VR with the purchase of Oculus VR for $2 billion in 2014.
The new VR feature supposedly lets Facebook users create avatars to meet their friends in a virtual world where they can explore 360-degree photos or use the Messenger application to make video calls.
As per Zuckerberg’s personal letter to Facebook users in February, the company mission is now to build out a community, and Zuckerberg believes these new realities are critical in this journey.
“For the past decade, Facebook has been focused on friends and family. Our next focus is building community,” he said. “Augmented reality is going to help us mix the digital and the physical in all new ways, and that’s going to make our physical reality better.”
Zuckerberg claimed he wants the tools that Facebook offers to help make communities safer and less divided.
“We live in a time when society is divided and we all have a lot of work to help people come together,” he said on Tuesday.