Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel has dismissed Facebook’s “metaverse” ambitions as “ambiguous and hypothetical” by announcing a raft of new augmented reality features coming to phones and Snap’s experimental AR Spectacles over the next year. .
Speaking ahead of the Snap Partner Summit, the company’s flagship annual event, Spiegel argued that Snapchat was uniquely positioned to guide the next decade of technology thanks to the company’s wide range of augmented reality services, such as “glasses.” used by millions of people 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 takeover bid for the latter, but receives a fraction of the attention. “That’s something that comes along with them like the ‘public square of the city,'” says Spiegel. “We are happy with the value we provide to our community and to society.”
He cites statistics indicating that “more than 90% of Snapchat users say they feel comfortable, happy and connected when using Snapchat,” which is “ranked the #1 happiest platform compared to other apps.”
“Now there are like 250 million people who interact with AR every day just on the smartphone,” Spiegel said. “And that’s on this little little screen that you’re looking through and you’re using your thumbs. So we think trying to break some of those limitations and getting into a truly immersive and interactive AR experience will be very important going forward.”
Snap’s latest Spectacles have only been shipped in prototype form to creators around the world: with 15-30 minute battery life and a severely restricted display, they’re meant to inspire creators with the possibility of future releases. of the same hardware. But, says Spiegel, the next generation is already in 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 our AR glasses is the AR platform behind them, brought together with hundreds of hundreds of thousands of developers, millions of lenses, and very, very advanced tools that continue to rapidly evolve.”
At the core of that evolution is an update called the Lens Cloud that allows developers at Snapchat and Spectacles to create AR experiences that are firmly grounded in the real world. A set of tools allows Lenses to be anchored anywhere in the world: Lego has used it to build virtual Ferris wheels, roller coasters and slides on the streets of central London.
Another feature allows two users of the same AR 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 could be the foundation of a shared virtual universe of the kind that Facebook recently decided was so critical to its future that it even changed the company name to Meta. But, Spiegel says, the word “metaverse” is never uttered in the Snap offices.
“The reason we don’t use that word is because it’s quite ambiguous and hypothetical. Just ask a room of people how to define it, and everyone’s definition is totally different.
“But one of the great general concepts that people have is that many of these tools are designed to replace reality. Whereas when we talk about AR, we are trying to augment the real world around you. So our fundamental bet is that people really love the real world: they want to be together in person with their friends.
“And of course our vision is real today, with glasses you can wear today and a platform that works at scale today. So we try to stay away from those assumptions, because we’re focused on what we’re building right 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 simply hold Pixy in hand and select one of five modes, including “follow”: the drone will recognize and follow its owner by taking a video along the way, and “reveal”, the drone will fly to its full height and film the reverse pan as you go.
“Everything you need to capture the spontaneity and fun of the moment from new perspectives is right in the palm of your hand,” said Spiegel. “There are no controllers. There is no complex setup. Just select a flight path and let Pixy take it from there, hovering above you while you capture photos and videos. And it knows when and where to return, landing softly in the palm of your hand.”
The device is available for purchase starting Thursday for $229.99 for customers in the US and France.