I watched the Mark Zuckerberg keynote at F8 last week (F8 is the yearly Facebook developer conference if you have not heard of it before)1. It’s difficult not to admire the man’s ambition for changing the world, and he seems to be doing quite a good job of it thus far. The main thrust of his keynote was AR.
AR for mobile has been around for quite a long time actually.2 I recall using Yelp and some other early iPhone apps that would overlay information as I looked through the onscreen camera, and while at Qualcomm we experimented with some very early AR applications. But of course last year’s breakout hit of Pokémon Go was a big introduction to a very large number of people. But what we saw from Mark Zuckerberg and his team at Facebook this week is a whole new step. Miles ahead of the current generation of AR applications.
The most important thing you need to understand about this new AR Studio3 that Facebook is releasing (currently in invite-only beta), is that it’s using a very advanced technique that allows it to computationally deconstruct your photo and recreate it in three dimensions. This allows you to take a normal photograph but then have Facebook’s AI look at it and extract information such as depth, objects, as well as interactions between digital and physical objects. You can even view that photograph as if it were taken from a different angle, or with different lighting conditions. When you consider that this has principally been achieved so far via specialised hardware (e.g. Microsoft HoloLens, Lytro, etc.), this is pretty amazing and possibly a very huge deal for everyone.
It means a few things. First, it means that brands and other businesses have an accessible technical platform and built-in distribution for exciting new experiences for their customers. We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of it, but we can hope for more than virtual masks. Secondly, this is done by utilizing existing hardware (from what I saw), not relying on new devices with LIDAR or some other technology that is not in mass production. By doing this, though, Facebook is intercepting what should, one would expect, be built into the OS of your device. Which brings us to the third thing this means, which is that it’s another way for Facebook to create its own application ecosystem that blocks out the handset makers (just as Apple did with the carriers).
For brands wanting to create these new experiences they will, in a very short time, have an alternative to creating an expensive native application. They can simply create a Facebook application that utilizes all of this great technology already built into their platform and distribute it to the Facebook community (which is nearly 2B people). This is a lot easier than submitting a native application to each country’s app store individually.
My top 3 ideas for brands to consider in using this new AR platform:
1. Your Own Pokémon Go Branded Game
We actually did this for Virgin (called Virgin Treasure Hunt)5 about a month before Pokémon Go came out, and it was very successful.
2. Branded Lenses
Lenses are the animated effects that overlay a person’s face (usually when taking a selfie). If you’re a soda maker, you could have some fun with a lens that makes it look as though someone is drinking your cola. Maybe you’re a sunglasses maker or a clothing brand…some cool lenses with your newest products.
3. Social Games
Since AR Studio will (eventually) support depth, object recognition, and so-forth, you could create some very simple, but fun, social games that can be played by people in the same physical space but only in AR. Putting together a virtual puzzle that reveals something special about your brand, or something that allows people to meet each other.
Bonus: Coupons and Special Deals
Something that could be very compelling is to create virtual coupons that are only visible via the Facebook AR platform, but perhaps you have to find them hidden behind objects. Or they are live for a specific time, only appearing in the first 5 minutes when you enter the store.
If the demo is to be taken at face value, this is a game changing technology. It’s a big step towards our ability to virtualise any object and place it in a digital space, which will be huge to not just mobile AR, but also VR.
Allen Smith, Managing Director at DMI Nordics