Facebook Unveils AR App Platform, Envisions Transformed Future

Seeing immense opportunity where rivals have failed, Facebook is apparently ready to corner the business of augmented reality. At the heart of the effort is a new AR app marketplace, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled at Facebook’s F8 conference on Tuesday.

“We’re going to start today with all the basic effects that you’re used to, [including] facemasks, art frames, and style transfers,” Zuckerberg told F8 attendees.

In other words, the AR marketplace will initially look a lot like Snapchat, which is best known for such tools.

Ignoring Snapchat’s place in history, Zuckerberg declared: “We’re going to make the camera the first mainstream augmented-reality platform.” Unlike Snapchat, however, Facebook is offering an open platform for AR apps and tools.

“Instead of having maybe 10 or 20 options to choose from, you’re going to have thousands of options from creators all over the world from all different types of cultures and backgrounds and styles,” Zuckerberg said on Tuesday.

But Facebook’s AR ambitions don’t end there.

“In the future, I think that more of us are going to contribute to culture and society in ways that are not measured by traditional economics and GDP,” Zuckerberg said. With the help of AR apps, “a lot more of us are going to do what today is considering the arts, and that’s going to form the basis for a lot of our communities.”

“We can create all kinds of things that, until today, have only been possible in the digital world. And we’re going to be able to interact with them and explore them together,” Zuckerberg said.

In practical terms, he asked the F8 audience to imagine going on vacation in Rome, “and having information about the Coliseum overlaid on the actual building or directions overlaid on the actual street.”

“Think about -- if your daughter’s a big Harry Potter fan -- for her birthday, you can transform your home into Hogwarts!” said Zuckerberg.

Looking farther into the future, Zuckerberg said: “We all know where we want this to get eventually. We all want glasses, or eventually contract lenses that look and feel normal, but that let us overlay all kinds of information and digital objects on top of the real world.”

Eventually, Zuckerberg said he even sees the VR revolution making many physical tools -- from TVs to photographs to clocks -- obsolete.   

One day, if you want to watch TV, “we can put a digital TV [on the wall], and instead of it being a piece of hardware, it’s a $1 app instead of being a $500 piece of equipment.”

“Think about how many of the things in our lives don’t actually need to be physical,” Zuckerberg said. “They can be digital … and think about how much better and more affordable and accessible they’re going to be when they are.”

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