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Instagram launches selfie filters, copying the last big Snapchat feature

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Today Instagram Stories adds a more subtle and mature but error-prone copycat of Snapchat’s beloved augmented reality selfie filters. The eight initial “face filters,” as Instagram calls them, work exactly like Snapchat, and let you add virtual koala ears, nerd glasses, a butterfly crown or wrinkle-smooth makeup to yourself and friends in photos or videos.

TechCrunch got an exclusive hands-on demo of the filters, which are easier to use and don’t distort your face as much, but don’t track your movements and stay properly positioned on you face as well as Snapchat’s. You can watch our hands-on demo video below, and follow along and watch our interview with Instagram’s VP of Product Kevin Weil today at TechCrunch Disrupt in our post: Instagram on copying Snapchat “This is the way the tech industry works”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNYLmxkcIGU

The face filters are the last major Snapchat Stories feature missing from Instagram after it cloned Snap’s slideshow-sharing format, overlaid creative tools, disappearing Direct messages and more. Without a compelling reason for new users to pick the original Snapchat Stories over the Instagram Stories clone, Instagram could thereby widen the gap by adding to its 200 million daily Stories users that already outnumber Snapchat’s 166 million total users, and further slow down Snap’s growth rate that led it to lose 25 percent of its share price value after it announced weak earnings last week.

Face filters and three more features roll out to all users today via an iOS and Android app update. An eraser tool will let you remove drawings you added to an image, though it can’t “Photoshop” out objects from the original image like Snapchat’s Magic Eraser. Instagram’s new Rewind mode plays videos in reverse, just like one of Snapchat’s oldest filters.

The most original new Instagram feature is the ability to type a hashtag and add it to your Stories posts as a sticker, just like a location sticker. When viewers tap on these stickers, they’ll be taken to the Instagram hashtag page showing other public, permanent posts with that hashtag. Eventually, though, you could imagine the ability to search Stories by hashtag, or watch a “Hashtag Story” compiled from all the publicly visible Stories with that label. Instagram actually just started testing Location Stories.

Instagram’s new eraser, rewind mode and Stories hashtags

Face filters for adults too

“There’s a lot of exciting work being done around augmented reality,” an Instagram spokesperson said when asked about the app copying Snapchat’s face filters. “We’ve heard from our community that they want more creative ways to share everyday moments and engage with friends. With face filters, they have more tools than ever at their fingertips, and all in one place.”

While that dodges the question a bit, the last part is revealing. Instagram wants to be the one-stop shop for visual communication, no matter your age. Instagram’s spin on Snapchat’s selfie masks is designed to make them simple and less wacky so they appeal to users beyond teens. If you’re not into Stories, you can also use Face Filters with Instagram Direct and Boomerang, as well as images you might want to post to the main feed.

Instead of needing to know you tap on the screen to activate face filters like in Snapchat, Instagram steals that access point so it’s intuitive for veteran mask users, but also adds a Smiley button to reveal the tray of 8 filters along the bottom of the screen.

“The designs and specific filters were built by the Instagram team,” says the Instagram spokesperson. But referring to the AR startup Facebook acquired last year, they noted that “The underlying technology uses MSQRD’s imaging technology and proprietary technology from Facebook’s applied machine learning teams.”

Instagram wouldn’t share whether the available filters will expand, rotate or come and go, but they did say “we’ll be bringing more face filters to the community on a regular basis.” Here’s a brief overview of the initial set:

  • Gold Crown – A Caesar-style golden wreath around you head, this filter is subtle and universal enough to be a good introduction to filters.
  • Koala – This cute filter adds a Koala nose and ears that raise in surprise when you open your mouth, though it falls short of being as adorable as Snapchat’s iconic puppy filter.
  • Nerd Glasses – This one swirls math equations around your head, can appear on two people at once and features glasses that slip down your nose if you tilt forward.
  • Bunny – Another attempt at beating Snapchat’s puppy filter, these ears raise in surprise when you open your mouth, and react to gravity by folding over if you learn side to side.
  • Butterfly Crown – Instagram’s attempt at Snapchat’s Coachella-favorite flower crown puts a wreathe of butterflies on your head that flitter off as you move.
  • Ice Crown – You exhale steam as snowflakes flurry around with this ice crown.
  • Peacock – Giant purple feathers in the foreground shield you from view until they’re pulled aside to reveal you, when you lean forward, looking like a 1930s flapper.
  • Makeup – Instagram’s final face filter washes a golden hue over you, smoothing your wrinkles so you look more “beautiful.”

Overall, the filters are meant to subtly augment your face rather than completely cover it or change its shape like some of Snapchat’s more aggressive filters do. While that makes them less playful and noticeable, they’re also more artful and mature — something that adults might actually use.

For now Instagram won’t allow Sponsored Face Filters, but those could come eventually to rival Snapchat’s similar ad unit. With all the most popular Snapchat Stories features successfully cloned, the smaller things left include adding 3D augmented reality objects to the world around you.

Now things should get more interesting as Instagram will have to do more innovating as it’s run out of stuff to copy.

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