Facebook’s theme of the day on Tuesday: Alternate realities.
The social giant hosted thousands of developers in San Jose Tuesday for the first day of F8, its annual developer conference.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg headlined the company’s keynote in his signature gray t-shirt and blue jeans, and spent almost 20 minutes outlining Facebook’s new augmented reality platform, a new way for developers to build features into Facebook’s built-in camera that add digital graphics to the real world you see through the lens.
Simple versions of what Zuckerberg has in mind already exist in the real world: Face-distorting filters that Snapchat popularized are one examples, and so is the mobile game Pokémon Go.
“Think about how many of the things you use [that] don’t actually need to be physical,” Zuckerberg told Recode in an interview where he outlined his broader AR vision, which includes AR glasses. “A key part of that journey is making an open platform where any developer can create anything they want,” he added.
Facebook launched that platform Tuesday, but it wasn’t the only major update.
- A New “Social VR” product: Facebook is beta testing a new social VR product called Spaces that lets users create an avatar, then “meet up” with other users’ avatars in a digital world. It’s an effort to turn VR, which has historically been a solo activity, into a group activity. Users can chat and gesture with their arms, draw pictures or watch a YouTube video. The challenge, as with all VR products, is scale. How do you convince people to buy a headset in order to spend time together in a virtual world? Explained Rachel Franklin, Facebook’s head of social VR, in an interview with Recode: “If we can do a good enough job of having you feel [an actual emotional connection] in VR, then the hardware purchase becomes a no-brainer.”
- A better way to find bots: Facebook Messenger has tens of thousands of bots on its platform, but they are hard to find. So Messenger is launching a dedicated discovery tab and new QR codes that, when scanned, bring users directly into conversation with a bot. QR codes are big in messaging apps in Asia, but haven’t caught on here in the United States, including when Messenger has tried them before. “But we’re going to give this another go,” Messenger boss David Marcus said.
- More partners for Facebook Workplace: Facebook has an enterprise version of its social network, called Workplace, that it launched last fall. Now Workplace is partnering with a bunch of enterprise partners, like Microsoft, Box, Quip and Salesforce, so that it’s easier to share and organize files. Workplace also opened up its platform so developers can make custom bots specific to their organization’s needs.
F8 continues with Day Two on Wednesday, and we expect the company will talk more about its hardware ambitions. The keynotes begin at 10 am PT and you can watch it here.