Snap Inc. creates more augmented reality content for its Snapchat users than any other firm in the world.
But the Venice-based unicorn’s place on the leading edge of the technology is threatened by the launch of augmented reality platforms from Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc.
Each of the Silicon Valley standard bearers rolled out software tool boxes that help developers insert augmented reality graphics into apps. Facebook launched Camera Effects in April, followed two months later by Apple’s ARKit, with Google joining the fray in August with ARCore.
Facebook’s threat perhaps looms largest because the social media behemoth already proved it can pick apart and copy Snapchat’s most-popular features. The latest case in point: Facebook subsidiary Instagram’s cloned “Stories” feature, which passed the original Snapchat version in total daily active users less than a year after it was rolled out.
Snapchat “can’t compete head-on with their resources because Facebook is so big,” said Jeff Kelley, an iOS developer for Detroit Labs, who has spent the last six years creating augmented reality apps.
Snap Inc. reported that it had $2.8 billion in cash and marketable securities for the quarter ended June 30, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Facebook reported it had $35.5 billion in cash and marketable securities for the same period.
Developers and executives in the augmented reality industry said hope is not lost for Snap. The company’s co-founders, Chief Executive Evan Spiegel and Chief Technology Officer Bobby Murphy, have demonstrated an uncanny ability to launch features on Snapchat that are perceived by teenagers as cool as well as ahead of the curve, they said. Such features include disappearing messages, slideshow stories, drawings overlaid on pictures and videos, and 3-D augmented reality content.
“I think Snap’s competitive advantage is their rapid adoption of technology,” said Guy Primus, chief executive of Virtual Reality Co., a mid-Wilshire firm that develops virtual and augmented reality entertainment content. “As the market continues to evolve I think Snap will lead the way in new technology.”
Snap did not respond to a request for interview.
Closing the gap
Snapchat has long been out-front with its use of augmented reality. Its so-called lens feature, a face recognition technology launched in 2015, allows users to overlay images onto photos and videos of themselves. It is well-known for cute graphics, such as 3-D vomit rainbows and dog ears. Much of Snap’s augmented reality content was developed using proprietary software, obtained through acquisitions of augmented reality companies and internal development, said augmented reality experts.