Facebook is embracing augmented reality and its platform will be something we already have: our smartphones. That’s good news for Apple because Facebook just set bar for what the average user will expect, and it very likely plays into Apple’s own plans for augmented reality on the iPhone.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, shared his company’s plans at the F8 conference inSan Jose on Tuesday. F8 is Facebook’s annual developer conference focusing on the future of technology.
Augmented reality refers to adding virtual elements, like text and graphics, to what you’re seeing in real time. Google tried to grab a slice of the market a few years ago with its Google Glass experiment that used glasses to overlay data onto whatever users were looking at.
Augmented Reality: Using What You Have
Facebook’s augmented reality platform relies on smartphone cameras and screens instead of specialized hardware, like glasses. Users can add virtual notes and stickers to real world objects for other people to see, and it can recognize what’s the camera sees.
What Facebook is offering, at least for now, sounds a lot like Snapchat’s World Lenses feature that was introduced yesterday. World Lens lets you add graphics and animations to videos you share—which also sounds a lot like Apple’s new Clips app that launched just a few days ago.
Jumping into the augmented reality world like this makes sense because users won’t have to invest in new gear. Removing the money barrier makes it more likely people will try out what Facebook offers.
Starting simple is a smart move also keeps users from getting overwhelmed with features and flashy graphics. In essence, Facebook, Snapchat, and Apple are training us today for more sophisticated augmented reality down the road.
Facebook isn’t alone in the augmented reality world. Apple CEO Tim Cook said last year his company is very interested in the field.
“I think AR is extremely interesting and sort of a core technology,” Cook said during an interview last August. “So, yes, it’s something we’re doing a lot of things on behind that curtain that we talked about.”
Apple’s first push into augmented reality will most likely use the iPhone and, like Facebook, will be relatively simple. Before today that could’ve backfired on Apple because users would’ve had different expectations for what they see. Thanks to Facebook, the bar has been set and it’ll be a fairly easy one for Apple to hit.
Setting Augmented Reality Expectations
Facebook is also teaching users to see augmented reality as a when-you-need-it technology instead of something that’s always there. Pulling our phones out and pointing them at objects creates a very different augmented reality experience compared to wearing glasses.
Actively engaging in augmented reality instead of passively experiencing it could slow down mainstream adoption, although that may not be a difficult hurdle to overcome. Pokémon GO is a perfect example of embracing augmented reality, and it’s something both Apple and Facebook no doubt have watched closely.
Pokémon GO is a game that gets people outside to hunt and catch virtual creatures. It uses your smartphone’s built in camera and display to superimpose characters onto whatever you’re looking at so it appears as if they’re really in front of you.
Smartphone owners flocked to the game in droves and public areas were filled with people wandering around looking for creatures to catch. The game is still popular nearly a year into its launch, but there aren’t as many people walking around with their phone in front of their face hunting for Pikachu.
Pokémon GO has been a great experiment showing the average smartphone user accepts and understands augmented reality when they get some sort of personal value out of it. In the case of the game, the value was entertainment.
Clips: Apple’s Sleeper Augmented Reality App
For Apple, the Clips app may be the first overt step into augmented reality. The app lets users add text, graphics, and animations to photos and video in real time. Apple can take what it learns from the way we use Clips to refine its own augmented reality plans.
Exactly when Apple will announce its augmented reality plans is still a mystery. We could get an announcement at June’s Worldwide Developer Conference event that’s—coincidentally—at the same venue as Facebook’s F8 conference. It’s a safe bet we’ll get a look at iOS 11 for the iPhone and iPad, and that would be a perfect time to also talk about augmented reality.
Augmented reality needs the support of third party app developers, which is why Facebook used F8 to show off its new platform. Apple could do the same at WWDC so developers can start preparing to roll augmented reality into their apps ahead of iOS 11’s fall launch.
Until then, Apple should send Facebook a fruit basket as a thank you for setting user expectations at a more realistic level. Teaching users today that augmented reality is fairly basic means they’re less likely to be disappointed, which leads to easier adoption, and ultimately more sophisticated features in the future.
[Thanks to Fast Company for the heads up]