Snap held their 4th annual Partner Summit this Thursday. The event, dedicated to the company’s staff in Ukraine, was produced across real locations in LA – a departure from the previous two partner summits that were created on stages. In addition to being a fit for the AR company, the live venues came in handy for CEO Evan Spiegel’s “one more thing” moment.
This coverage of the summit is meant for a certain kind of audience. Snap does have interests outside of AR, and in the interest of timely publication and manageable article length, a lot of non-AR announcements aren’t covered here. You can watch the full event online but we didn’t have to skip a lot.
AR has increasingly been a part of Snap’s business model – Snapchat reports 6 billion daily interactions with AR Lenses. The growing focus was evidenced in Spiegel’s introduction, which included a discussion of the second series of Monumental Perspectives created with LACMA.
“Snapchat has changed a lot over the years, and our camera has become far more powerful – evolving from a way to communicate visually in a Snap into an augmented reality platform,” Spiegel said. “Our investments in augmented reality represent our ongoing efforts to build technology that serves humanity and that feels intuitive and familiar to use.”
The trend continued into the product portion with Chief Technology Officer Bobby Murphy. Murphy talked about AR but also introduced some of the supporting technologies including machine learning.
The Product Portion
“Augmented reality enhances the best parts of being human — it enables us to express ourselves, live in the moment, learn about the world, and have fun together,” said Murphy. “Creators are using Lens Studio to build new AR experiences, moving beyond mobile, and pushing the boundaries of what is possible at the intersection of innovative hardware and software.”
Murphy’s talk, as well as the demo footage, focused heavily on Spectacles. While Spectacles 3 – dual cameras mounted on frames with no display – are available for order, the actual AR-enabled version announced at the event last year remains limited to select developers. We’re saving the “one more thing” moment for the end of the article, but it wasn’t Spectacles’ availability.
Updates to Lens Network and Lens Studio
In other developer news, there is a new machine learning track within the Ghost, Snap’s dedicated AR innovation lab. There are also big changes coming to Lens Studio. A new analytics package will allow developers to understand how users are interacting with their experiences during sessions.
“We’re working to advance underlying technologies, like machine learning, that bring powerful, helpful, impactful AR into focus,” said Murphy. “ML is what backs our Gesture Recognition, Body Mesh, Human and World Understanding tech that enable sign language Lenses, expanding empathy and connection across our community.”
Machine learning-enabled environment matching and Ray Tracing, an advanced graphics capability, are also coming to Lens Studio. A key use case described in the presentation involved more realistic jewelry models for virtual try-on applications, with a Tiffany & Co. virtual model and a Disney Lightyear experience showcasing the possibilities.
A new collection of backend services called Lens Cloud was also announced. The collection consists of a storage service, location-based services, and multi-use experience services. While multi-user experiences and location-based Lenses have been teased by Snap for a while now, the cloud storage feature is promising in that it could allow persistence within experiences.
Also in support of the location-based experience initiative, Snap is releasing maps of cities, beginning with sections of London. More locations will be released in the coming months.
The Tiffany & Co. model wasn’t the only time that fashion and commerce came up during the course of the event. The baton was passed to Snap’s Head of AR Platform Partnerships, Sophia Dominguez.
“A whole new AR economy is growing,” Dominguez said, announcing that applying to the Creator Marketplace is now open to everyone. “As more businesses integrate Snap’s AR technology into their applications using Camera Kit, there’s increasing demand for extraordinary AR experiences.”
More on “the AR Economy”
Carolina Arguelles Navas, Snap’s Global Product Marketing Lead, took over from Dominguez but she too had a lot to say about virtual fashion. This included AR shopping, but also digital-first fashions.
“Ultimately, we’re going from ‘this looks good’ to ‘this looks good on me,’” said Navas. “While the camera is already transforming the shopping experience of today, the opportunity for augmented reality to revolutionize the digital fashion economy is just getting started.”
Navas cited digital-only fashion house DressX and also announced unlockable exclusives for Bitmojis – including one unlocked for people who registered for the Partner Summit through their Snapchat account. From there, Navas launched a number of updates to AR fashion retail on Snap.
Snap’s 3D Asset Manager is updating to make virtual try-ons easier than ever. A new computer vision-enabled solution will also allow retailers who don’t have 3D models of their products to run virtual try-on using 2D images. Virtual try-on experiences will also be collected under a new “Dress Up” destination accessible from the Snap camera screen or through Lens Explorer.
Finally, Camera Kit for AR Shopping, a specialized SDK launched during the Summit for iOS and Android. A desktop version is coming soon. This will allow clothing retailers to utilize Snap’s AR shopping tools whether the retailers are on Snapchat or not.
Partnerships With Google and LiveNation
One of the major takeaways of the day was that Snap works best with others. Speaking to this was SVP of Content and Partnerships Ben Schwerin.
Schwerin described that the Snap Camera is now available on the lock screen of the Google Pixel 6 so that Snapchatters don’t have to miss a moment unlocking their phones. Schwerin also announced a multi-year partnership with Live Nation for launching AR-enabled immersive concerts and festivals.
“Our Camera has evolved into an augmented reality platform powering the creativity of our community and businesses,” said Schwerin. “We’ve deeply invested in augmented reality because we believe it will heighten the human experience, and enhance the things we’re passionate about, the places we love, and the experiences we share.”
Introducing “Director Mode”
Head of Talent Development, Brooke Berry, had less to say about AR specifically. She was talking about content creation. However, these aren’t mutually exclusive concepts. According to Berry, almost two-thirds of Spotlight submissions use AR filters and Lenses. So, what did the event bring to content creators?
A new Director Mode is a set of camera and editor tools. These include a Green Screen mode, a Dual Camera mode for filming with the “selfie cam” and world-facing cameras at the same time, a camera speed adjuster, and Quick Edit feature. The new mode is coming soon to iOS and later this year for Android.
“One More Thing”
Talking about Director Mode set up Spiegel’s “one more thing” moment. It’s not Spectacles, it’s not explicitly XR, but it is cool.
“Today, we’re taking the power and the magic of the Snap camera … to new heights,” said Spiegel. “Pixy is the perfect new edition to your creative toolbox.”
Pixy is a pocket-size drone that takes off from a user’s hand and can float, orbit, follow a user, or follow up to four preset flight paths. It then records or takes images that are uploaded to Snapchat memories before landing back in the user’s hand. All of this was demonstrated by Spiegel which, again, would have been a tall order in a recording studio.
The Pixy is available starting at $230 “while supplies last” in the US and France. Purchasers are encouraged to check local laws regarding drone use and photography.
A Lot to Look Forward To
As always, this Snap Partner Summit gave us a lot to look forward to. Whether you’re a business, an AR developer, or just a fan of Snapchat, a lot of good things are coming – and a lot of them are because of the camera company’s collaborations with other organizations.