The surging activity in augmented reality in both the business and consumer sectors is being matched with a wealth of updates and partnerships from Snap Inc.
On Thursday, during the company's Snap Partner Summit 2021, a wide range of tie-ups and new features were unveiled, with some of the biggest brands on the planet joining the AR fray.
Perhaps the most notable partnership is Snap's new effort with the Lego company. Although Lego is known for allowing kids of all ages to use plastic building blocks to create art, toys, and even robots, now Lego fans will be able to build Lego constructs together, remotely, via a new feature from Lens Studio called Connected Lens. The new feature is available immediately via Snapchat.
Moving forward, the idea of two users collaborating on an AR model remotely via something as widely accessible as Snapchat is groundbreaking. Currently, a number of high-end AR solutions are facilitating such interactions. But even if Snapchat's Connected Lens is less detailed and/or responsive than some higher-end solutions (we have yet to test it), the baseline function of remote AR collaboration via Snap's powerful toolset is something that will likely quickly be harnessed beyond the realm of Lego fun and into the design and business arenas.
The new capability is part of the just released updates in Lens Studio 4.0, which include a new 3D Body Mesh feature, Cloth Simulation, as well as a Visual Effects Editor which is designed to help creators make their AR creations look even more realistic.
Another major partnership launched on the Snap Partner Summit virtual stage involves Bumble. The dating app is now using Snap Kit to engage its users. Starting this week, when daters use the Bumble app to match with each other, they can now use Snapchat AR to include a variety of virtual backgrounds in their video chats.
The business tie-ups didn't end there. Snap has also enlisted several companies to utilize AR try-on capabilities to help sell fashion and beauty products. Zenni Optical is now using Snap AR's "True Size" technology to help consumers select eyeglasses and shades, Piaget is using Snap's wrist-tracking to assist with watch and jewelry purchases, and luxury brand FarFetch is now using Snap's 40-plus voice commands to do things like take a photo of a fashion selection, or move on to the next item in a product line-up.
Also, Prada is now showing off a way to select and change the color of products for sale via a Snap Lens using nothing other than gestures via Snapchat. Demos of all the interactions were shown off on stage and were pretty impressive when you consider this is all happening via smartphone and tablet, not via an AR headset.
Snap also announced a partnership with Disney World that will allow park visitors to use the Disney app to capture and share memories in augmented reality. The prospect of seeing the Disney castle in AR is fascinating, but even more important are the possible Snap Map integrations that could be hidden throughout the parks as AR Easter Eggs.
Aside from these tie-ups and demos, Snap also launched two other business-focused tools that will likely inspire more adoption from companies looking to harness AR to engage customers. The first is Snap's new API-powered Lenses feature, which will soon allow companies to access the Snap Business Manager tool to simply upload entire product catalogs, allowing real-time price changes and specials to be seamlessly integrated into the company's existing Snapchat Lenses. The function was illustrated using sports and performance stats from Major League Baseball and running/cycling app Strava.
The other business tool is called Public Profiles for Businesses, which allows companies to create permanent locations where Snapchat users can find the brand's AR Lenses and Snapchat Stories. Along with a showcase for interactive promotions, the profiles will also include shopping pages, making it easier for users to click through from AR experience to hitting the "buy" button. The company's plan is to eventually integrate the Snap Maps function with these pages, thus making these business profiles even more helpful as you move around cities.
Overall, Snap had a very big day, announcing enough new product features and business partnerships to fill an entire year, much less a quarter. Now that Apple's App Store is finally experiencing some adversity (courtesy of Epic Games), Snap's aggressive push to assist and cater to the small and large business community with a wealth of AR tools could bring new momentum and value to what was once limited to the confines of mere social media experiences.