Zuckerberg thinks Facebook was ‘late’ to competing with Snapchat, is now ‘ahead’

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Mark Zuckerberg believes Facebook has leapfrogged Snapchat in the race to provide visual communication thanks to the launch of Facebook’s augmented reality Camera Effects platform. On today’s strong earnings call after Facebook beat estimates in Q1 2017, Zuckerberg said (emphasis mine):

I think we were a little bit late to the trend initially around making cameras the center of how sharing works. But I do think at this point we’re pretty much ahead in terms of the technology that we’re building, and making an open platform I think is a big step forward. A lot of people are using these products across our family of apps. And I would expect us to continue leading the way forward on this from this point on.”

Meanwhile, when asked about monetizing augmented reality, Zuckerberg described how he imagines that one day you’ll be able to point the Facebook app’s camera at an object, the app will recognize what it is and you could then see a Buy button pop up. For now, though, Facebook isn’t allowing any unauthorized advertising, logos, branding or commerce experiences on its AR platform.

Facebook’s AR Studio tools allows outside developers to build augmented reality experiences for Facebook’s platform

Zuckerberg’s comments today mesh with what he told TechCrunch in an interview ahead of Facebook’s F8 conference last month. In response to criticism about copying Snapchat, Zuckerberg said, “I guess I’m not that worried about that . . . The first chapter that made sense was to release products that people were familiar with . . . but the unique thing that we’re going to do is we’re not just going to build basic cameras, we’re going to build the first mainstream augmented reality platform.”

This platform means Facebook will enlist the help of outside developers to build AR content for users, rather than trying to build them all alone. This contrasts with Snapchat’s anti-developer attitude that could force it to try to build the breadth of AR by itself. The platform could let Facebook offer thousands of different AR selfie filters, make-believe objects and interactive experiences while Snapchat currently only shows around 20.

Snapchat’s pioneering approach to visual communication and its curated set of AR selfie filters gave it a big lead over Facebook. But with its massive headcount, steady profits and history with developers, Facebook has closed the gap. Now as the battle rages on to fill the vast physical world with augmented reality, Facebook’s heft and outside help could give it the advantage.