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Vision 20/20: Snap Inc's spectacular AR bet

Augmented Reality Development
Once a camera company, always a camera company? Snap Inc doesn’t seem to think so. Time and again, Snap Inc has stressed that it is a camera company on a mission to reinvent what a camera can do. The 2021 Snap Partner Summit shows it is so much more.

The humble Snap camera is today's portal into multiplayer games, eCommerce, independent content creation (hello there, TikTok), and snappy (pun intended) visual messages. However, going by the announcements, Snap Inc now stands to be coronated under a fresh moniker: the AR company.

No other major tech player in the market has made as many strides toward mainstreaming AR as Snap Inc has. Niantic was there until it just wasn't. Microsoft's HoloLens AR headsets are still priced and positioned as early adopter gadgets. Facebook-owned VR leader Oculus is only just rolling out a research-centric AR prototype. And Apple is working on a device it might reveal next year. Snap Inc's 'dogface' AR may look frivolous in comparison, but that's because we were blind to its real potential.

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The Partner Summit's big reveal, the fourth-gen Spectacles, overshadows other vital developments, and maybe rightly so. Snap's global product lead for AR, Carolina Arguelles Navas, called Snapchat a new PoS, indicating its AR-powered focus on eCommerce. Co-founder and CTO Bobby Murphy's update on how the Snap Camera can now show you recipes and identify plants and animals in real-time speaks to the AR powerhouse the company has become.

In this piece, our team takes a deep look at the Snap Partner Summit, analyzes its significant trends, and speaks about the potential it holds for app developers and owners in the future.

The commerce behind the camera

200 million of Snapchat's 500 million monthly active users come from places outside North America and Europe. With India showing a 100% year-on-year user growth over the last five quarters, this comes as no surprise. But the real clincher is how users all over rapidly increased their interactions with Snap's content partners. They shared their uploads over 600 million times a month and prompted Snap to beta-test 'business profiles' with 30 brands last year. This year, they are officially rolling business profiles out as a Snap feature. Users can now try products on, check for size, browse catalogs, and make purchases via their profiles. At this point, you might say: Well, great! eCommerce on Snapchat. How novel, right?

Right. But it gets better.

What this means for your business

Essentially, Snap took eCommerce and injected high-octane AR fuel into its veins. Users can now access over 40 natural-language voice commands (with more coming) to help them browse catalogs. Product try-ons become hands-free, too, with gesture controls that let you swipe through items and try them on at a distance from your phone screen. Wrist tracking tech lets users sample watches and jewelry. True size tech repeats the magic with eyewear and sunglasses.

Snap's Scan feature lets users scan uploads and get in-app recommendations for similar looks and products. Companies like MAC Cosmetics use this to sharpen targeting and gather intel for upcoming products. All recipes, on the other hand, uses Scan to suggest recipes based on the ingredients in front of you.

Your business will find it tremendously easy to create a presence on Snapchat, thanks to Minis. Minis are compact utilities built with HTML5 that don't need installations to work for all Snapchat users. This feature gives your business unprecedented access to AR-powered solutions that have a low barrier to entry.

Don't take a raincheck on the lens party

APIs make a comeback with a splash, thanks to Snap's gargantuan Lens Studio. Like we said earlier, Snapchat's lenses are so much more than dogface today. So far, around 200,000 creators have designed about 2 million lenses which garnered a cumulative view count of 2 trillion. That is massive. And with APIs thrown into the mix, the potential user engagement lenses offer businesses just skyrocketed to Pluto.

What this means for your business

API-enabled lenses will allow businesses to upload product catalogs and 3D assets into Snapchat's Business Manager. Users get access to real-time product inventory and pricing updates, while brands get to observe user behavior up close and reap anonymized data for analytics. The Connected Lenses feature builds on this, giving multiple users the chance to interact with the same lens in real-time from different locations. Imagine multiple remote users demoing your product using the same Connected Lens and making group buying decisions. On the other hand, Snap Map looks all set to take Google My Business on by allowing businesses to showcase themselves on the Map and plug services in there as well, using Layers. Think of this as a virtual customer walk-in for your business.

Finally, true AR glasses become a reality

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Fortified by its recent $500 million acquisition of UK-based WaveOptics, Snapchat unveiled the fourth generation of Spectacles. Powered by WaveOptics' AR displays, Spectacles 4.0 is the synthesis of Snap's rich AR ecosystem and a vast library of user-generated content. This year's Spectacles' dual 3D Waveguide displays offer up to 2,000 nits of brightness, perfect for indoor and outdoor usage. However, to support these rich displays, Snap had to sacrifice battery life. Spectacles can run for about 30 minutes on a single charge, which is probably why they aren't open for sale yet.

At 134 grams, they're almost double the weight of last year's Spectacles but still far lighter than Microsoft's Hololens headset. Two front-facing RGB cameras use Snapchat's lens-tech to automatically detect physical surfaces and superimpose AR effects on them without obstructing the view. Two stereo speakers and four mics complete the audio experience, including augmented audio and voice commands. A side of the frame doubles as touchpad controls for an interface called the Lens Carousel, which allows users to swipe and click through AR effects.

What this means for your business

Spectacles will be made available to an undisclosed number of AR effects creators through an online application program. But, the fact that they are not up for sale now is irrelevant. Snap's Spectacles is the closest we have come to mainstreaming true-AR glasses. Even if a small portion of Snapchat's 200,000-strong developer community is encouraged to develop AR effects for Spectacles, it'll still become the richest ecosystem for AR eyewear.

The point here is that Spectacles and its potential have now been made public. Along with Snap, all of us get to track its progress and anticipate the AR tech to come. To give you a clearer idea, here is a glance at the different use cases our team foresees across various consumer verticals:

  • Navigation: Spectacles superimposes dotted lines on the path ahead of you, with indicators for turns
  • Furniture purchase: Use AR to check if a piece of furniture would fit in a room of your house while you're at the store
  • Animal identification: Look at any dog, insect, bird, or cat and instantly pull all available data on its species. It can also mark poisonous plants, snakes, and insects in red, helping you avoid them while out on a hike. A lot like Ash Ketchum's Pokedex to identify Pokemon, only it's on glasses. In 2021. In the real world.
  • Speed measurement: Robocop might become less a movie and more a documentary with police officers walking around wearing Spectacles to catch overspeeding instantly. Baseball can deploy this, too, to measure just how fast a pitch was.
  • Accessibility: Integrate Spectacles with a state-of-the-art text-to-speech engine that provides real-time closed captions for the hard of hearing.
  • Tourism: Land in a foreign city and walk around like you know it, with interactive, self-guiding tours delivered straight to you via Spectacles. Not such a lonely planet anymore, no?
  • AR marketing: Think real-world multiplayer Cluedo, where brands can direct you to 'secret events' or host treasure hunts for their products.
  • Health and fitness: See distance covered, calories burned, and track your heart rate in front of your eyes as you run or work out. Make virtual workout sessions feel more personal and motivational by watching your trainer up close.

As Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said, "You have to invent a whole new way of interacting with computing when it's volumetric and integrated with the space around you."

And at Mutual Mobile, we couldn't agree more. Our fluency in AR development comes from the work we delivered for companies like Walmart and Royal Caribbean, to name a few. Snap AR throws open a world of possibilities to businesses looking to invest in AR and its intersection with eCommerce. With Snap AR, our engineers are exploring ways to create AR experiences that will transform your interactions with customers. By experimenting and building during the early adoption stages, businesses will be in a position to leverage the early mover advantage when AR deployment hits the mainstream.

This potential to define consumer interaction with AR gives Snap the fighting power to hold its own against competitors like Facebook and Microsoft. AR glasses, after all, are posited as the next smartphone. They will herald a paradigm shift in how we compute and interact, making tech even more personal, private, and responsive. For far too long, the major players sidelined Snap Inc. Seen more like a gimmicky and frivolous app for teenagers, Snap Inc had to fight tooth and nail to challenge industry norms. With the fourth generation Spectacles, Snap went all-in on its hardware-cum-AR bet. Will it pay off?

Snap, along with competitors like Facebook and Microsoft, reckon AR glasses are the next smartphone.

We vote Yes.

Build the future you wish to see.

Siddharth Maganty

Content Marketer

Siddharth is a copywriter from Hyderabad, India. He loves F1, cats, long runs, eBooks, and writing articles on tech he would have loved to find online

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