Snapchat founder, Evan Spiegel denied “metaverse” on Facebook ambitions as “mysterious and virtual” as he announced a host of new augmented reality features coming to phones and Snap’s experimental augmented reality glasses over the next year.
Speaking ahead of the Snap Partner Summit, the company’s flagship annual event, Spiegel said Snapchat is uniquely positioned to guide the next decade of technology thanks to the company’s broad portfolio Augmented Reality ServicesLike the “lenses” that millions of people use every day.
With 332m daily users and a market capitalization of $46.95bn (£38bn), Snap is comfortably bigger than Twitter, even after Elon Musk’s latest takeover bid, but it gets a fraction of the attention. “This is something that comes along with them being a ‘public city square,’” Spiegel says. “We are thrilled with the value we bring to our community — and to our community.”
He cites statistics that “more than 90% of Snapchat users say they feel relaxed, happy, and connected when they use Snapchat,” which is “ranked as the happiest platform in comparison to other apps.”
“There are now nearly 250 million people interacting with augmented reality daily on a smartphone alone,” Spiegel said. “And it’s on this small screen that you look through and use your thumb. So we think trying to break some of these limitations and get into a truly immersive and interactive augmented reality experience, is going to be really important in the future.”
Snap’s latest Spectacles have only been shipped in prototype form to creators around the world: With a battery life of 15-30 minutes and a severely restricted screen, they aim to inspire creators with the potential for future versions of the same device. But Spiegel says the next generation is already under development.
“It just changes the way you interact when you can walk around and use your hands, and see computing come to life. The strength of AR glasses lies in the AR platform behind them, meeting hundreds of thousands of developers and millions of truly cutting-edge lenses and tools that continue to evolve rapidly” .
The core of this development is an update called Lens Cloud that allows developers for both Snapchat and Spectacles to build AR experiences that are placed firmly in the real world. One set of tools allows Lenses to be attached anywhere around the world: Lego used them to build virtual Ferris wheels, roller coasters and slides around the streets of central London.
Another feature allows two users from the same augmented reality lens to interact with each other for the first time, occupying the same virtual spaces and playing the same games.
It looks like the updates may be the basis for a shared virtual universe of the kind that Facebook recently decided is so central to its future that it Renamed the company to Meta. But Spiegel says the word “metaverse” is never uttered in Snap’s offices.
“The reason we don’t use that word is because it’s so vague and hypothetical. Just ask a room of people how you define it, and everyone’s definition is completely different.”
“But one of the biggest overarching concepts people have is that a lot of these tools are designed to replace reality. Whereas when we talk about augmented reality, we’re trying to augment the real world around you. So our main bet is that people really like the real world: they want to be together. Face to face with their friends.
“And of course, our vision is real today, with glasses that you can use today, and a platform that works at scale today. So we try to move away from those assumptions, because we focus on what we’re building now.”
Spiegel also revealed Pixy, the “world’s friendliest flying camera” – a palm-sized, autonomous drone that can be used to capture outdoor activities. With a single button to control it, users hold the Pixy in their hand and choose one of five modes, including ‘follow’ – the drone will recognize and track its owner as they take a video on the way – and ‘reveal’ – the drone will fly as far as Rise to it and photograph the reverse pan as it travels.
“Everything you need to capture the spontaneity and joy of the moment from new perspectives is in the palm of your hand,” Spiegel said. “No controllers. No complicated setup. Just select the flight path and let Pixy take it from there, and it floats on top of you while taking photos and videos. And it knows when and where to come back, it lands gently in the palm of your hand.”
The device is available to buy from Thursday for $229.99 for customers in the United States and France.