Snapchat finally unveiled World Lenses to all users worldwide after several months of teasing the product in press releases and beta testing.
The next iteration of Snapchat’s augmented reality (AR) features, it lets users overlay 3D effects that can be adjusted and interacted with onto the world around them. But Facebook had an AR announcement of its own, highlighting the competition between the platforms.
On the same day, Facebook at F8 announced “Act 2” of its vision to bring AR to the masses. The first act was to place its camera functionality front and center in its family of apps. Now, it’s bidding to make the Facebook camera the first AR platform — a mission statement which bears a striking resemblance to Snap’s own raison d’être as a “camera company.” Some of the new features unveiled by Facebook include a Camera Effects platform, which includes an AR Studio and Frame Studio that third-party developers can contribute to.
The war between Snapchat and Facebook to own the smartphone camera is just beginning. This may sound surprising — after all, Facebook has been copying and releasing Snapchat functionalities for the better part of eight months — but Facebook had been playing catch up all this time. Now the companies are on equal footing and the race to bring AR to smartphones and consumers worldwide is on.
At a first glance, it looks like Facebook’s AR features may just edge out those available on Snapchat. We can’t be totally sure, however — Facebook is relatively transparent about its advances in this space, laying out a strategic vision and showcasing features in-depth at F8. Snap, on the other hand, keeps its card close to its chest. The company never publicizes a product roadmap nor a long-term strategic plan. For example, with the exception of a few muted leaks in the news, the launch of the company's Snap Spectacles product caught everyone by surprise. This was also the case when Snapchat expanded its search functionalities in January and then, more significantly, at the end of March.
That being said, Facebook has a strong advantage in its scale and wealth of resources. The company is heads and shoulders above Snapchat in terms of revenue, market capitalization, and user base. And it’s also proven that, despite its big size, it’s able to build and ship products rapidly. Beyond this, Facebook is also opening up its AR platform to outside developers. This could be a huge boost compared to Snapchat’s more closed, homegrown approach to innovation.
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