What Facebook’s big bet on AR means for brands

The Facebook Developer Conference, known as F8, is the event at which the world’s largest social network makes big announcements and unveils important new products, and this year’s conference was no exception.

One of the highlights of the first day of the conference was an announcement of a new augmented reality (AR) platform that could have significant implications for brands.

For years now, brands have heard that augmented reality (AR) is one of the next big things, but there’s a strong argument to be made that AR hasn’t quite lived up to the hype.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, however, believes that AR is a big part of the future.

At this year’s Facebook F8 Developers Conference, he made it clear that he is willing to bet big on the future of AR with the launch of the Camera Effects Platform, which as the name suggests, allows third parties to create their own camera-based effects.

Image: Facebook

The foundation of the Camera Effects Platform: the smartphone camera

According to Facebook, the Camera Effects Platform “turns smartphone cameras into the first AR platform.” It does this through the Facebook camera, the in-app camera that is part of the Facebook iOS and Android apps. The Facebook camera was recently updated to include masks, frames and interactive filters.

Facebook’s goal with the Camera Effects Platform is to “[empower] artists and developers to connect art with data to bring AR into everyday life through the Facebook camera.” To achieve this goal, the new platform contains two tools: Frame Studio and AR Studio.

Image: Facebook

Frame Studio “is a web-based tool that allows anyone with a profile or Page to design frames for use on profile pictures or in the new Facebook camera.” Frames created with the Frame Studio will be available in the Facebook cameras of the creator’s friends or Page followers.

AR Studio, which is currently in an invite-only beta, is an “augmented reality experience authoring tool” that is available for Mac computers.

Using the tool, third parties can create animated frames, masks and interactive effects. These creations can respond to various external stimuli, including face tracking, motion, interactions that take place during Facebook Live broadcasts, and third-party data.

Once approved, AR Studio-created effects can be applied to photos, videos and Live broadcasts captured with the Facebook camera.

Brands can expect a big push in the near future

The opportunities the Camera Effects Platform creates for brands are obvious, and there are no doubt numerous ways Facebook will be able to monetize the platform.

While Facebook isn’t aggressively directing its Camera Effects Platform launch messaging at brands – it’s focusing on artists and developers – Frame Studio is already available to all Page owners, so brands with Facebook Pages should be able to start experimenting with the new tool right away with the understanding that Frames “cannot include logos or trademarks unless pre-approved by Facebook.”

Facebook notes that AR Studio beta partners include Electronic Arts, Warner Bros., Nike and Manchester United, so it is clear that Facebook is ready to exploit brand opportunities.

The battle between Facebook and Snapchat is real

If there was any doubt that Facebook and Snapchat are battling each other directly now, it was pretty much laid to rest with Facebook’s announcement of the Camera Effects Platform.

The masks, frames and interactive filters that third parties will be able to create with the Camera Effects Platform resemble many of the features Snapchat has pioneered.

And perhaps not so coincidentally, hours before Facebook kicked off the F8 conference, Snapchat announced World Lenses: new functionality that lets its users add AR elements to snaps created with phones’ rear-facing cameras.

For his part, Facebook’s Zuckerberg isn’t worried that his company has been criticized for apparent copying of Snapchat.

“The first chapter that made sense was to release products that people were familiar with…but the unique thing that we’re going to do is we’re not just going to build basic cameras, we’re going to build the first mainstream augmented reality platform,” he stated.

Given Facebook’s proven ability to create platforms, there’s a strong argument to be made that copycat or not, the company probably has an advantage over Snapchat, which hasn’t demonstrated much interest in all at embracing third parties with open arms.

The Camera Effects Platform could fail, and possibly even backfire

But even if Facebook wins the war to dominate the consumer market for augmented reality, it could theoretically lose the war.

That’s because it is not yet clear whether Facebook’s billion-plus users are eager for Facebook to become a canvas on which photos, videos and live broadcasts are “enhanced” with masks, frames, and interactive filters and effects.

Snapchat’s popularity proves that there is a segment of the consumer population that wants those features, but Facebook has more than five times as many monthly active users as Snapchat does and Snapchat has seen slowing user growth recently.

As such, there’s no guarantee that the majority of Facebook’s more diverse user base will embrace Snapchat-like features.

For brands interested in experimenting with the Camera Effects Platform, the questions around how much adoption these new features will see, and how users who don’t embrace them react to their presence, will need to be answered before brands can contemplate a strategy for a more AR-centric Facebook.

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