Social media company and Snapchat maker Snap has for years defined itself as a “camera company,” despite its failures to turn its photo-and-video recording glasses known as Spectacles into a mass-market product and, more recently, its decision to kill off its camera-equipped drone. But that hasn’t stopped the company from envisioning a future where AR glasses are a commonly used device, and one, as the company revealed on Tuesday’s fourth-quarter earnings call, that will eventually be powered by AI technology.
Investors wanted to get a sense of how Snap was thinking about the latest developments in AI — particularly in buzzy areas like generative AI. which has benefited from advances in algorithms, language models and the increased processing power available to run the necessary calculations. One pointed to the AI image generator Midjourney’s bot for Discord as an example of how AI could lead to increased user engagement within an app.
Snap CEO Evan Spiegel agreed that, in the near term, there were a lot of opportunities to use generative AI to make Snap’s camera more powerful. However, he noted that further down the road, AI would be critical to the growth of augmented reality, including AR glasses.
The exec said that, initially, generative AI could be used to do things like improve the resolution and clarity of a Snap after the user captures it, or could even be used for “more extreme transformations,” editing images or creating Snaps based on text input. (We should note that generative AI, at least in the way the term is being thrown around today, is not necessarily required to improve photo resolution.)
Spiegel didn’t pin any time frames to these types of developments or announce specific products Snap had in the works, but said the company was thinking about how to integrate AI tools into its existing Lens Studio technology for AR developers.
“We saw a lot of success integrating Snap ML tools into Lens Studio, and it’s really enabled creators to build some incredible things. We now have 300,000 creators who built more than 3 million lenses in Lens Studio,” Spiegel told investors. “So, the democratization of these tools, I think, will also be very powerful,” he added, in reference to the future integrations of AI tech.
What’s most interesting, perhaps, was the brief insight Spiegel offered about how Snap foresees the potential for AI when used in AR glasses.
Though Snap’s Spectacles have not broken any sales records, the company continues to develop the product. The most recent version, the Spectacles 3, expands beyond recording standard photos and video with the addition of new tools like 3D filters and AR graphics. Spiegel suggested that AI could have an impact on this product as well, thanks to its ability to improve the process of building for AR.
“If we think longer term, five years…this is going to be critical to the growth of augmented reality,” the CEO said. “So today, if you look at AR, there’s just a real limitation on what you can build in AR because there’s a limited number of 3D models that have been created by artists.”
“We can use generative AI to help build more of these 3D models very quickly, which can really unlock the full potential of AR and help people make their imagination real in the world,” Spiegel added.
As an example of how this could actually work in terms of AR glasses, Spiegel suggested a scenario where parents could be playing around with their kids wearing AR glasses, and then point out, “Oh my gosh, there’s a pirate ship and big monster!” Those elements could then come to life using generative AI technology, he said.
Of course, however interesting this future use case may be, the current reality involves a company that’s still feeling the impacts of the slowing economy and tighter ad budgets. The company reported mixed results in Q4, with a miss on revenue ($1.30 billion versus $1.31 expected) but a beat on earnings per share (14 cents versus 11 cents expected), and global daily active users of 375 million, close to expectations of 375.3 million. Snap’s stock plunged following the results as investors reacted to the net loss of $288 million and lack of official guidance for Q1.