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Facebook introduces AR effects for Messenger
December 21, 2017, 5:17 pm

Facebook today announced a new suite of augmented reality (AR) tools called ‘World Effects’ for Messenger. The tools allow users to drop real-time 3D objects into photos or videos within the camera frame. The technology builds on Facebook’s existing AR features, like the ability to add filters and masks to your face in a selfie, and it is designed to make Messenger more interactive by leveraging the increasingly sophisticated computer vision capabilities of smartphones. The first set of world effects include a floating heart, an arrow, and a 3D robot and unicorn, as well as word bubbles with predetermined messages like ‘love’, ‘heart’, and ‘miss you’.

The idea is to make Messenger as playful and multifaceted as possible, so it can stay competitive with Snapchat and, Facebook hopes, lure away some of Snap’s younger user base. Snapchat launched a version of this product back in April, calling it ‘World Lenses’. Facebook is also looking at being able to identify every object by a smartphone camera in real time, similar to Google’s existing Lens feature, but also augmented using object recognition and 3D animation. A real coffee cup can be recorded showing a virtual wave of steam, for instance.

So Facebook is effectively racing against not just Snapchat in this field, but Apple and Google as well, both of which have launched their own AR platforms in addition to baking it new AR features within their respective mobile apps and services. Facebook is at a disadvantage in this respect. The company may have a billion plus user base but it does not have direct control over the camera on a smartphone, from which the social network is primarily accessed, because it does not own and operate a mobile OS.

To that end, Facebook says it is opening its AR platform, called AR Studio, to third-party developers in open beta, so they can start building out a competitive app store of sorts to compete with Apple and Google. The goal now is to create the most compelling use case for AR — which right now looks like messaging — and use that to draw in and retain users over time.

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