Back to reality: Snap Inc. CEO Spiegel talks AR tech, weighs in on new features

Snap Inc., Snapchat’s parent company, announced the launch of an array of new features at its annual Snap Partner Summit. The camera company’s CEO and Co-Founder Evan Spiegel later shared, in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya English, the latest innovations Snapchat is offering, and most exciting of all, augmented reality.

When asked about the company’s future plans for the metaverse, Spiegel said: “Our focus has been on reality. Mostly because we really love the real world, we think people will spend much of their time in the real world, interacting with their friends because the real world is enjoyable. So, we believe we can augment that with computing, using augmented reality. Our vision is to augment the real world, rather than replace it with virtual reality.”

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An example of this would be Snapchat’s Bitmoji avatars, a very popular feature on the app which has seen over a billion Bitmoji avatars created since its inception.

“We recently did a drop for new Bitmoji fashion; people tried on Nike products two billion times on their avatars. There’s much excitement to use avatars for self-expression, but our focus is really on how we can enable that in augmented reality and not replace reality with VR,” the CEO said.

With over 600 million monthly and more than 332 million daily active users worldwide, Snap Inc. has expanded its list of offerings to include new AR features, some of which can be used for gaming and online shopping, among others.

“We are now at 250 million people engaging with AR every day on Snapchat alone, which is so exciting. And I think for us, what has been so surprising in such a good way is seeing all the incredible things our community is creating that we could never have dreamt of ourselves.”

Snap’s AR capabilities have expanded exponentially over the past few years. What was once a vision for the future has become a reality, with AR being more accessible than ever for millions worldwide.

shopping

In addition to its consistent subscriber growth, Snap Inc. has also become an attractive company to work with for businesses in the retail industry.

Since January 2021, more than 250 million Snapchat users have engaged with AR shopping lenses over five billion times. One of the app’s most popular features includes the Try-On feature.

Initially launched in 2020, try-on allows users to use their cameras to try clothes, accessories, makeup, and eyewear virtually, enabling them to view the product on themselves while they move in real-time.

The company collaborated with several others to make this happen, helping customers try items on before buying them without needing to physically undress.

Snapchat’s try-on feature for AR shopping. (Supplied)

“AR shopping has been a major investment focus for us because the business group’s results have been so significant. Businesses are seeing AR Try-On results, which makes sense because you can try on a bunch of outfits without ever having to change your clothes, and it’s a much better consumer experience; It helps people see what they feel comfortable wearing and how they want to express themselves,” said Spiegel.

During the holy month of Ramadan, Snapchat also launched the Middle East and North Africa region’s first virtual mall, partnering with locally-renowned brands such as Namshi, al-Futtaim-IKEA, and L’Oreal, among others.

A key market for Snapchat, the app has over 75 million users based in the MENA region, representing a growth rate of 33 percent year-on-year in monthly addressable reach, according to their latest figures, with around 20 million monthly users alone in Saudi Arabia.

“Much of our focus has been on making [try-on tools] easier with 3D Asset Management.”

Puma AR Shopping on Snapchat.  (Supplied)

Puma AR Shopping on Snapchat. (Supplied)

Snap’s 3D Asset Manager helps businesses build AR shopping experiences, enabling brands to request, manage, and optimize 3D models for any product in their catalog.

He said that he was particularly excited about 2D Try-On.

“What we found when working with many of our partners is that they really want to create a Try-On experience in augmented reality. Often, they don’t have the 3D assets for their product line, but they do have a lot of 2D photos of people wearing the product. This allows us to take the retailer’s product catalog and bring it into AR so that people can try on in 2D all these different outfits, and that’s a real way for retailers and brands to scale in AR without having to create the assets themselves.”

In addition to this, Snap can now also help its commerce partners by bringing its AR Try-On capabilities to their own apps and websites with their Camera Kit.

Lens Studio and Lens Cloud

Lens Studio, a Snapchat application designed for artists and developers to build AR experiences for users, now has various new features, including advanced tracking technology. At the summit on Thursday, the company revealed some new features, including Lens Cloud.

Lens Cloud is a freely available collection of backend services that vastly expands what developers can build in AR. Storage Services, Location Services, and Multi-User Services will unlock more dynamic, practical, and interactive

Snapchat: Field Museum Sue the Dinosaur Triptych.  (Supplied)

Snapchat: Field Museum Sue the Dinosaur Triptych. (Supplied)

“We’re super excited about Lens Cloud, a set of cloud services that help developers build lenses. For example, using something called multi-user services allows you to experiment and experience the same AR lens simultaneously, whether that’s through Spectacles or the phone, things like persistent storage, or being able to localize AR assets in the physical world,” the CEO said. “I think developers will be really excited about this.”

Lens Studio will feature Ray Tracing, making AR elements look very realistic, the company revealed. With Ray Tracing, it will be possible for reflections to shine from AR objects in a way that is true to life, marking the first time a capability like this is scaled across mobile devices.

“In the beginning, when we first built lenses, we built them for people to express themselves [such as the] you know, Rainbow tongue and dog ears [filters]. When we took these developer tools in Lens Studio and made them available to the whole world, we didn’t know what to expect. Fast forward several years, people have now built amazing ways to learn sign language, for example, or to do a product tutorial in 3D with our [AR] glasses, walk through the solar system, or pretend you’re a wizard and cast spells, or bond with your friends,” said Spiegel.

PL.AI Monsters Everywhere, AR gaming feature on Snapchat.  (Supplied)

PL.AI Monsters Everywhere, AR gaming feature on Snapchat. (Supplied)

“There are so many amazing things that we would never have built ourselves that our community is great at. And I think that’s what makes us so excited about things like the Snap Partner Summit. We are excited about continuing to develop these products because we can’t wait to see what people will make with them.”

Minis

Gaming partners have also been building lightweight, social games for Snapchat.

Snap introduced Minis in 2020, offering partners a way to use its html5 gaming platform to build bite-sized social experiences within Snapchat. There are now more than 20 Minis from partners including Ticketmaster, HBO Max, Headspace, and more that help the community do everything from shopping with friends to registering to vote.

Snap on Thursday also announced the launch of Minis Private Components System, a new feature for developers to add social experiences to Minis such as ratings, reviews, recommendations, and more while protecting users’ privacy.

“We built a technical solution where we inject the user data in at the very last millisecond when rendering the page. And so, that allows our community to have these social experiences, and of course, the developers to provide them, but without having to deal with the hassle and the regulatory issues around dealing with private user data, and of course, it protects the privacy of our community,” Spiegel explained.

Pixy

Snap Inc.  CEO Evan Spiegel holds Pixy 2, one of the company's recently launched offerings.  (Supplied)

Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel holds Pixy 2, one of the company’s recently launched offerings. (Supplied)

Snap’s CEO is particularly excited about Pixy. It’s a pocket-sized flying camera and operates independently, without controllers or anything complicated to set up. It floats a few feet above you and captures photos and videos, then lands in the palm of your hand after the flight. Everything it shoots gets downloaded into your Snapchat Memories. Pixy is only available while supplies last in the US and France.

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