Facebook's Act 2 is Augmented Reality

At this week’s F8 Facebook developer conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced the social network would break into the hottest technology of 2017: augmented reality, integrated into a regular smartphone camera feed, with social applications in mind. The goal is clearly to match Snapchat’s wild success with young people, but also to surpass that success by making use of the uniquely powerful Facebook community.

Launching today in a limited “beta” form, Facebook’s newest push is being called Act 2, and it will be available on any Facebook app with an integrated camera. It’s the company’s next step forward from the equally familiar photo filters and moment-sharing, which it copied wholeheartedly from Snapchat. Still, Facebook views Act 2 as a long-term investment in rebuilding its lost social media monopoly as well as a way to brush off competition, and it’s taking the project seriously.

Soon enough, Facebook will include features like real-time face mapping for facial filters, and 3D room mapping to quickly create interactive digital representations of a physical space. Zuckerberg showed the audience that with the new augmented reality camera features, he could upgrade a boring breakfast table by adding words, animated animals, and more. The app built a 3D model of the room, furniture and all, allowing him to do things like render the room flooded with water, or full of bouncing digital balls.

“Maybe this is just what kids are into doing these days,” Zuckerberg deadpanned at the Tuesday keynote address, making obvious reference to Snapchat. “But we look at this and we see something different. We see the beginning of a new platform.” The message is clear: Snapchat may have done it first, but Facebook is the only company placed to truly take advantage of everything augmented reality could offer in the future.

One interesting feature was a “relevant effects” option that automatically takes a guess at the object selected, then applies an appropriate effect. Zuckerberg demonstrated this with a cup of coffee, which was given a nice steaming effect.

There was simply no escaping the Snapchat imagery during the Act 2 announcement — it began with a hypothetical about Augmented Reality glasses calling out to Snapchat Spectacles, and ended with literal Snapchat puppy-face filters. Zuckerberg dismissed these features, and thus the competition, as “primitive,” and just a prelude to what’s coming down the pipe.

At the end of the day, though, shareholders don’t care about originality. If people are flocking to augmented reality features, then that’s exactly what Facebook is going to give them.