Snap bets big on augmented reality with new features for app

Snapchat, the social network popular with young smartphone users, said it has 500 million monthly active users amid surging growth in many parts of the world. — AFP

Snap Inc is more aggressively embracing augmented reality, showing off a new version of its glasses with AR and expanding shopping features to compete in e-commerce with other social media platforms such as Facebook Inc and ByteDance Ltd’s TikTok.

The company said it has upgraded augmented reality technology to let those on the popular Snapchat app use their voices and gestures to make changes in Lenses, or animated overlays, on photos and videos. The announcements were made Thursday at Snap’s annual partner summit, where the company outlines innovations and upgrades to its app.

Snapchat, most known for ephemeral videos and its popularity among teenagers and young adults, now has more than 500 million monthly active users and roughly 40% of its members are located outside of North America and Europe, the company said.

The new products are a “meaningful step forward in our platform strategy”, chief executive officer Evan Spiegel said in an interview before the summit.

Snap also released the next iteration of Spectacles, glasses that are now powered by augmented reality. The product isn’t available for general sale, but is aimed at spurring creators to design new experiences that mesh the real world with digital overlays. The glasses “redefine the way we interact with and see the world”, Spiegel said at the summit.

Snapchat also improved the visibility of the Scan feature, which works with partner companies to let people use the app’s camera to identify everything from types of plants and dog breeds to wine bottles and car models. Snapchatters also can scan an outfit and receive recommendations to buy similar looks from hundreds of brands.

The social media company said it was teaming up with the dating app Bumble to allow users to send their matches video notes with Snapchat AR products. Snap also announced a partnership with Walt Disney Co to allow tourists at Walt Disney World to incorporate Snap AR experiences into their visit and photos.

The company also introduced a new way for popular creators to monetize their videos by allowing fans to pay money to send them “gifts”, which can be traded in for cash. Previously, Snap announced it would pay US$1mil (RM4.14mil) a day to creators of the top-performing posts. The company said Thursday more than 5,400 creators have earned more than US$130mil (RM538.72mil) as part of the programme.

Shares rose as much as 6% on the news from the conference. The stock had gained 7.7% this year though Wednesday’s close.

The Santa Monica, California-based company is hoping its investments in augmented reality will help the app capitalise on the e-commerce boom. As the spread of Covid-19 kept many would-be shoppers away from brick-and-mortar stores, more advertisers experimented with AR shopping experiences such as allowing customers to try on clothes, accessories or beauty products from their homes. Augmented reality layers digital information on top of real-life images.

Snap’s push into augmented reality is just one part of its strategy to deliver multiple years of 50%-plus revenue growth in the future. Other companies such as Facebook, Pinterest Inc, TikTok and Inc have also made new investments in AR.

Snap has made some recent acquisitions to bolster its AR technology including the US$124.4mil (RM515.51mil) purchase of Fit Analytics, a tech company that uses machine learning and webcams to allow users to create personalised fit profiles. The company said it was introducing new technology to enable more accurate experiences trying on eyewear, watches, jewellery and full-body outfits. More brands will also be able to create their own business landing pages on the app to house their AR campaigns. – Bloomberg

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