Facebook kicked off its annual F8 developer conference with Mark Zuckerberg’s traditional keynote address, announcing a range of new features and additions to its various services and apps that consumers can expect to see over the next 12 months.
The power of the camera proved to be a major theme of the keynote, with Facebook continuing to push its live video capabilities while also mimicking Snapchat’s successes with photo and video filters. Facebook will also expand beyond simple filters with a new focus on augmented reality, enabling users to access a range of informational metadata by opening their camera within the Facebook app.
New AR tools will enable users to place virtual objects into the real world that can be accessed by others, letting you leave virtual messages on the fridge for family or paint invisible graffiti. There will also be AR games that incorporate real-world objects thanks to simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM) technology. In introducing the new tools, Zuckerberg claimed that “people standing around looking at blank walls” would be “a thing in the future”.
Developers have also been provided with the software to create new camera features, with a Camera Effects platform that provides a series of tools for filter and AR content. Frame Studio will focus on 2D overlays, similar to Snapchat’s geotags and filters, while AR Studio will enable developers to create 3D masks that track and respond to facial movements, all without having to write any code.
Zuckerberg also addressed the darker side of live video, paying tribute to Robert Godwin Sr, the man whose killing was filmed and posted onto the site earlier this week. Facebook has been criticised for the amount of time it took to remove the video, and Zuckerberg acknowledge this, noting that “we have a lot of work and we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening.”
Moving beyond Facebook’s core app, the company is placing an increased focus on Messenger, integrating games and music into the platform and allowing users to more easily share songs or play games with each other without having to leave the chat window. Third party extensions have been introduced, echoing features that many Asian messaging platforms introduced years ago. Spotify has already been integrated, with Apple Music coming soon, and game developers are being encouraged to bring their software into Messenger.
Bots will also play a greater role in Messenger’s future, with a new tab called Discovery introduced to the Messenger home screen which will include featured and trending bots. In addition, M, Facebook’s human-augmented concierge service, will become more proactive, scanning conversations in Messenger for ways it can help. Whether it’s ordering dinner through partner delivery.com or offering to help you pay back a friend via Facebook’s payments product, the feature will aim to provide useful tools during conversations.
While AR seems to be the key technology of the conference, VR also made a showing, with a new dedicated app called Facebook Spaces, designed for social VR. The platform will enable you to create a cartoon-style avatar and interact with friends using the Facebook-owned Oculus headset. The app is launching in beta today, with users able to pull in content from Facebook, transforming panoramic photos into 360 environments or watching videos alongside a friend’s virtual avatar.
From a marketing perspective, there was relatively little on offer in terms of additional tools, beyond a new analytics product that promises to enable brands to access richer audience demographics and behaviour across channels both online and in-app. A new Automated Insights tool will use machine learning and AI to generate business insights for apps built using Facebook’s technology.
Overall, the focus on the camera as the key tool of the mobile age was clear, but many critics will argue that many of Facebook’s latest innovations still feel like a company desperate to keep pace with new, more experimental firms like Snapchat. Time will tell if Facebook’s more measured, polished approach will enable it to keep its crown.