Will Facebook’s Latest Camera Strategy Spell Trouble for Snapchat?

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It’s no secret. Facebook has been chasing Snapchat’s ghostly “cool kid” trail for what seems like forever. (And to their credit, they’ve been rather forthcoming about this copycat strategy.) But something unexpected happened on Monday, when Facebook and Snapchat both made augmented reality announcements on the same day. Given Snapchat’s timing—the first day of F8—it would appear that Snapchat was trying to get ahead of Facebook this time, which could signal that the tables may finally be turning.

The real news is Facebook’s shift in focus. Yesterday, at F8, Mark Zuckerburg announced that the company is going to make the camera the first mainstream AR platform. Facebook has spent the last 18 months reorganizing the company and apps around a new interface focused on the camera experience. And this should have Snapchat worried. Because, up until now, Oculus VR and the Facebook Messenger bot platform were the platform darlings. And this new camera experience fits squarely into Snapchat’s sweet spot.

Let’s Compare AR Features

Snapchat’s new 3-D augmented reality World Lenses will let you decorate your world, similar to the Pokemon-Go experience. To use, simply launch the app and switch to the rear-facing camera by tapping the icon on the upper-right hand corner or double-tapping anywhere on the viewfinder. Once you find the lens you want, tap on the object (like this rainbow) to switch between different animations of the same graphic. Very similar to the rear-facing lenses we’ve come to love, but with a few additional options. Today it’s rainbows, kissy-faced popsicles and dancing “OMG’s.” Give advertisers a seat at the table, and you’ll likely see team mascots, branded holograms and dancing billboards in the near future. (I can already see the cartoon football player chasing me with a bucket of Gatorade.)

And not surprisingly, Facebook’s augmented reality feature announcement is nearly identical in form. But with one major difference: their infrastructure overshadowed the Snapchat announcement in three key ways:

1) Facebook is launching a Camera Effects platform, which will be compatible with future AR hardware and open to developers

2) Facebook created AR Studios, which will allow artists to create their own augmented reality experiences for the camera, and even Facebook Live

3) Facebook is partnering with platforms like Giphy to integrate content into the camera experience

And all this is good for brands. Facebook’s open system won’t just flood the platform with great content (which will keep people on the platform) the content will be better because more minds will be innovating. Imagine an AR experience that recognizes products to provide real-time user reviews in frame. Or sentiment recognition that can modify content based on the user’s expression or tone of voice. Or maybe the AR is synced with the users’ device and can pull in the users own photographs or Fitbit stats. In my opinion, it’s these possibilities that turn the tables in favor of Facebook.

Why Does This Matter?

According to the New York Times, “the social network’s move could give the company an important competitive edge over apps like Snapchat, which has focused on building tools for ‘talking’ with images and video.” And this is what Facebook is banking on. Because Gen Z is right around the corner, and without a renewed focus on things like camera innovation, real-time chat and collaboration features, the company simply won’t cut it with the new round of cool kids.

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