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Facebook’s New AR Platform Makes Clear Why It’s Anything But a Snapchat Clone

Facebook went all in on AR at its annual F8 conference this week.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s new Camera Effects developer platform, which aims to open up Facebook’s apps to third-party developers. The hope is these developers will; create camera filters and other AR apps to augment the handful that Facebook provides on its own.

There are two primary components to Facebook’s new platform: AR Studio and Frame Studio. AR Studio makes it easier for developers to create the kind of facial overlays you’re used to seeing in Snapchat and Instagram.

Frame Studio is a little more ambitious, aiming to enable developers to create AR frames around real-world images in video. In other words, you’ll soon be able to create AR overlays and interact with other objects in the real world.

An example from Facebook’s Frame Studio

The examples Facebook included in its presentation included commerce apps that would enable users to tag real world objects and potentially even buy or sell them.

Speaking of Snapchat, Snap Inc. also launched its new “world lenses” feature earlier this week. World lenses, much like Frame Studio, will enable users to place filters over objects rather than just people’s faces.

While it would be easy to joke about Facebook once again copying Snapchat, the two company’s aims are very, very different, as this week made clear.

As Snap clearly stated in its IPO filings, it sees itself as a product company. Its success is tied to its ability to create and iterate on its core products. Snap’s twist on this is that it sees itself as “camera” company, with the lens and how you interact with it being its key product.

At F8, Facebook announced a similar focus on the camera, as the name Camera Effects would suggest. However, Facebook is very clearly a platform company, not a product company. Facebook’s approach to AR and the camera is entirely about making it a platform that others can build on. Facebook wants to be the one that provides the infrastructure and the interface. Beyond that, what comes out of its platform is up to the software developers who use it.

Snap, in contrast, has been openly hostile to third-party developers in the past. As Techcrunch’s Josh Constine noted earlier this week, Snapchat’s terms of service explicitly forbid the use of third-party apps or plugins with Snapchat. They also declare “You will not use or develop any third-party applications that interact with the Services or other users’ content or information without our written consent.”

Snapchat platform is antideveloper

Snapchat’s terms of service are anti-developer

In other words, don’t build apps for Snapchat and don’t use them. The only features you’ll be able to use on Snapchat are ones that Snap develops itself.

This anti-developer attitude will likely need to change, or it will come back to bite Snap in the near future. As more and more developers start to create filters and apps for Facebook’s Camera Effects, Snap’s product teams will struggle to keep up.

With Snapchat’s growth already stalling – Instagram reportedly passed Snapchat in daily active users earlier this month – it can ill afford to fall behind Facebook in AR.

Further, as I’ve written before, AR represents one of the few opportunities Snap will have to monetize outside of advertising. Allowing Facebook to own the opportunity that Snapchat has long been a leader in would be a huge mistake.

With Apple and Google also reportedly looking at releasing AR platforms in the near future, competition will only get fiercer.

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