Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg intends to make augmented reality much more than an app for playing games and creating fun selfies. At the April 18-19 Facebook F8 developers conference, Zuckerberg announced that Facebook is making a major push into AR, which generated an explosion of coverage from media such as The Atlantic and Tech Crunch. The reaction was justified. Zuckerberg intends to elevate AR to a more everyday application, and Facebook has the muscle to deliver on the vision.
To recap what happened at F8: Zuckerberg announced the rollout of the Camera Effects platform, through which anyone with the Facebook in-app camera can create AR experiences. Facebook also invited software developers to create AR content, similar to Apple’s strategy of opening up its products to developers.
“We’re making the camera the first augmented reality platform,” he declared.
Camera Effects launched in beta at F8.
Zuckerberg said the first AR applications focus on creating special effects and animation overlaid on real-world content, such as selfies enhanced with rainbow-colored beards — or the kind of content that Snapchat provides already (which has created some criticism that Facebook is merely playing catch-up with Snapchat). But Zuckerberg made it clear that Facebook’s vision for AR goes well beyond goofy facemasks. He envisions uses for AR that inject utility into flat spaces and objects, such as:
- Families turning the breakfast table or refrigerator into an interactive message board.
- Restaurant diners pulling up immersive information about their wine choices at the table or sharing information about their favorite meals on a restaurant wall.
- A family at home turning a flat wall into an interactive TV screen without needing to buy the hardware.
- Artists turning a blank wall into a canvass to create 3D art.
Games remain important to Facebook, but Zuckerberg envisions the ability to turn downtime into game-playing opportunities, such as a family in a doctor’s waiting room passing time by playing games on a table.
Although the near-term applications are more rudimentary, Facebook’s long-term strategy promises to make AR a more sophisticated and everyday experience as outlined in the use cases above. Brands have an opportunity to take part of that future, and some are doing so already. Lowe’s, for example, has been testing AR as a way to navigate and find products in its stores. The Cleveland Cavaliers have launched an app that extends the NBA basketball off the court.
Facebook faces a long road in its development of AR, and is first order of business is giving people a reason to use Facebook for personal special effects as opposed to Snapchat. But Facebook possesses the scale to implement its vision. By making Camera Effects an open-source platform, the world’s largest social media platform has shortened the distance from today to tomorrow.
My take: the question isn’t if brands will adopt AR, but when. The uptake of AR is going to affect all aspects of the business, ranging from the kind of talent they develop to the products and experiences they design. For example, as a brand incorporates AR into its marketing and customer experiences, the business needs to recruit people who possess skills that go well beyond traditional marcom and encompass visual concepting and production. The very nature of product development inside a company will require people who can incorporate AR visualization tools into methods such as design sprints in order to rapidly develop and vet new ideas.
Facebook alone is not unleashing a new era of AR — just ask Apple — but Facebook is a bellwether, and F8 is a sign of things to come. Incorporating AR means exploring a test-and-learn approach. We recommend that you start with customer jobs to be done, explore the ways AR could help and delight the customer in context, and determine the right mix of resources you’ll need. We can help your organization determine how to get started, fill key positions, and accelerate implementation and learning with AR. Contact us to get started.