Snapchat to launch augmented reality art platform tomorrow

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Snapchat plans to launch a new augmented reality art platform featuring pop artist Jeff Koons and others. It will allow art to be pinned to specific locations in augmented reality so users can see it when they hold up their phones in the right spot. Snapchat will solicit sign-ups from artists who want their art added to the platform.

Snapchat plans to roll out the feature with Koons’s art around the world as seen in these photos from Las Vegas, Sydney and Paris. A source tells TechCrunch the feature is based on technology from Cimagine, an Israeli AR startup Snapchat acquired in December. Similar tech powers its World Lens, like the dancing hot dog that got more than 1.5 billion views on Snapchat, plus its new Sponsored World Lens ads.

How Snapchat leaked its own launch

Today a strange “” URL appeared, featuring a countdown to 3PM eastern time Tuesday over a photo of Central Park and New York’s skyline. When TechCrunch asked Snapchat about it, a company spokesperson told us “ we’re excited to share more soon.”

But our savvy readers discovered that using a time hack, you could trick the site to show what will be launched, ruining Snapchat’s big countdown. Now Snapchat has apparently disabled the hack method, but we’ve collected all the details. The countdown expiration and launched are timed with Snap CEO Evan Spiegel’s talk at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit.

TechCrunch reader Paul Stamatiou sent us this video rip via Jonah Grant that depicts a now-removed YouTube video detailing a Snapchat partnership with Jeff Koons that puts one of his iconic blow-up animal balloon pop-art sculptures in Central Park. Unfortunately the video is silent, but you can get the gist of it.

Essentially, when users are nearby a piece of Snapchat ART, they’ll see a special Lens available. An indicator will direct them which direction to look until the location marker is in frame, at which point they’ll see the AR art on their phone. Perhaps users will be able to find Snapchat ART on the app’s SnapMap, though we can’t confirm that yet.

Koons, famous for his giant balloon animal sculptures, is the featured artist for the launch. “Discover Koons’s innovative digital installations scattered across the world to experience them for yourself, and learn a little more about them,” Snapchat wrote on the leaked launch site. Digital installations from Koons will be available in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Toronto, Sydney, London, Paris and Rio de Janeiro.

But Koons won’t be alone. The sign-up form below will allow artists to submit their art to be added to Snap’s platform.

Facebook announced in April its plans to pin augmented reality art to real-world locations. But its preview of art by Heather Day akin to a graffiti mural was much smaller than the massive installation art pieces shown off in Snapchat’s photos and video shown above. Snapchat seems to have beaten Facebook to the punch.

The ART launch could help reinvigorate Snapchat; as user growth has slowed, revenue expectations were missed, and competition from Facebook and Instagram Stories remains fierce. At least its share price has perked up a bit since hitting a low in August after botched earnings.

AR can hide content on a digital plane within the real world, thereby making you curious of what could be lingering around you if you just held up your phone. That could be an appealing reason to whip out Snapchat wherever you go. Snapchat has already used this feature with its stylized geofilters, goading users to swipe after Snapping to see if a cool filter is available for their location.

If the launch goes well, it could get people flocking to physical locations in mobs reminiscent of Pokémon GO. As people hold up their phones in glee, passersby are sure to ask what they’re doing, and potentially download or re-open Snapchat to join in the fun.

The question will be whether Snapchat’s platform approach to ART can fill the vast physical world with AR such that not just users in top cities can play along. As I wrote in April, Snapchat would need help from outside developers or artists in order to make AR scale. To really move the needle, Snapchat needs ART everywhere.

[Update: When we first spotted the countdown site, I originally speculated that “If I had to guess based on zero information, I’d say that Snapchat will launch a feature that lets you pin augmented reality art you create at real-life locations that other users can then view when nearby.” Now we know that was pretty close. This article has been heavily edited to reflect the leaked details.]

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