Snapchat’s ambition is to be much more than just the app you use to send goofy selfies. It wants to be a leader in augmented reality, the futuristic tech that could one day replace our phone screens with graphics overlaid onto the real world.
Snapchat laid the groundwork for its next big push into AR in an update to its app on Tuesday. The update adds special filters for the phone’s rear camera that Snapchat calls “World Lenses.”
These lenses work similarly to Snapchat’s existing selfie lenses, which can turn you into everything from a puppy dog to Hillary Clinton.
Where World Lenses differ in a key way is that they don’t just track someone’s face, but instead overlay 3D effects all over your surroundings. For example, one World Lense in Snapchat places smiling clouds above you that puke rainbows when you point your camera up at them.
While the effect is obviously silly and playful, this kind of AR, or as some companies have started calling “mixed reality,” is being seriously worked on by highly valued startups like Magic Leap and entrenched players like Apple and Microsoft. The tech is what many big players in the tech industry consider to be the next major computing platform, with the potential to replace all screens by projecting the digital world onto the real one.
Snap, which is currently preparing to IPO at a valuation as high as $40 billion, has filed for patents that provide a look into how it could monetise AR. The Los Angeles based startup is working on advanced object recognition that can serve ads, promotions, and other information over physical objects seen through a camera.
Its upcoming Spectacles eyeglasses — which now have a Bluetooth pairing option in the Snapchat app as of this latest update — only record video that can be shared on Snapchat. But it’s easy to imagine Spectacles and any other camera the company is working on one day using AR in a myriad of interesting ways.