Eight visions of Facebook’s future from its F8 conference
Mark Zuckerberg’s social network is betting big on augmented reality, hasn’t given up on VR – but doesn’t have much to say about the ‘Facebook killer’
By Alex Hern
Apr 19 2017
As Apple has WWDC and Google has I/O, so Facebook has F8: the social network’s big annual conference has steadily grown, from a way to speak to developers about the upcoming changes to its platform to an event where the whole world hears about the exciting new products coming from the House of Zuckerberg.
Facebook’s chief executive may not quite have Steve Jobs’ infamous “reality distortion field” – the social network’s ideal world is more like an artificial reality where none of the outside world penetrates – but he can still wow when he wants to. Here’s the eight biggest things to take away from the San Jose event.
1) Augmented reality is Facebook’s big future bet
Facebook wants you to use its camera for more than just taking pictures. If there’s one message from this year’s F8, it’s that.
Sure, you’ll still be able to snap pics and send them to friends. But the company also wants to paste more and more detail over the real world to create a second, “augmented” layer.
Some of the features of this “camera platform” sound genuinely useful – or at least, fun. Facebook wants you to share pics of your run with your pace and time superimposed over the top, for instance, and it dreams of a day when you’ll be able to leave a review of a restaurant by pinning it to the window. (That one feels like it would have a few kinks to work out in practice, though).
Other features seem … less good. Demonstrating one simpler capability of the new camera, Zuckerberg showed that “you can add a second coffee mug” to your picture, “so it looks like you’re not having breakfast alone”. Which is surely the bleakest thing ever said in a billion-dollar company’s presentation.
2) It’s still copying Snapchat
One word that wasn’t said on stage, though: Snapchat. Which is odd, because we’ve seen a lot of these features before. The ephemeral messaging app/social network for hip teens in rich countries popularised the idea of the AR camera, steadily upgrading its own offering from something which simply whacked a few location-aware images over the top of a pic to facial recognition-based “lenses” which turn you into a dog. This is something teens like.
Facebook’s photocopiers have been overheating with the pace at which it’s been replicating Snapchat’s features, so it was probably looking forward to the ability to finally overtake its rival in LA. But it was not to be: six hours before F8 started, Snapchat released its own AR functionality, which it’s calling World Lenses. The new lenses are slightly less feature-rich than what Facebook is promising, but unlike the Camera Platform, it’s already on phones now. Sure, it’s sneaky and underhanded to gazump Facebook like that, but Snapchat’s owed a bit of payback. Score? Snapchat 21: 0 Facebook.