Facebook Launches New Camera Tools for Messenger, Including Masks, Frames and More
Facebook's been copying Snapchat's core features in various ways for a while now, which has raised questions about Snapchat's ongoing viability and whether Facebook's cloned functions could impact on the app's growth.
So how does Facebook really hurt Snapchat? By releasing more and better features similar to Snapchat's image enhancing additions and tools that make users want to try them out and tell their friends.
Facebook's been threatening to do this for a while, to make a big splash with a whole range of new, visual features. And now, they may have actually done it, just in time for the holiday rush.
Today, Facebook has announced the global release of the new Messenger Camera, which adds a Snapchat-like capture interface to your Messenger experience, along with "thousands of stickers, frames, masks and effects".
Facebook's been testing similar tools in Messenger with 'Messenger Day' in certain regions (Messenger Day is available in 15 regions) and now, they're bringing the tools to everyone, and there's a heap of new ideas and overlays to try out.
First off, to access the new tools you'll see a new shutter button in the center of your Messenger screen - that large, Snapchat-like circle in the middle of the bottom function bar.
One tap on the shutter takes a photo, while a long press captures video. You can also access the camera when you're in a Messenger thread by tapping the camera icon, ensuring that it's only ever one step away as you go about composing your message.
Once you're in the composition screen, you can add a range of additional filters and overlays - Facebook's even worked with artists all over the world to create regional-specific tools using local themes and languages.
Facebook's also added in new 'programmatic frames' - if Messenger is able to recognize the meaning of the text you're writing (it can partially identify content in 15 different languages), it'll offer up suggestions for related art that you can add to add to your update.
Facebook's also added new visual tools for text messages - tap the palette icon at the bottom of screen and you'll get a new option to add art and stickers to your message.
There's a heap of options to play with here, and given Messenger has more than a billion monthly active users - versus Snapchat's reported 150 million daily users (Snapchat hasn't released a monthly users stat) - you can imagine they'll have some impact and will give users less motivation to switch across to Snapchat. Add to that the growth of Instagram Stories (Instagram's added 100 million more users in the last 6 months), which also just added live-streaming, and Facebook's suite of product options is looking pretty compelling, and pretty daunting for Snapchat. And by releasing these new Messenger tools just before the holidays, they're ensuring the new additions will be the talk of the various gatherings and get-togethers in the period - Snapchat, have also added their own new creative tools, in Scissors and Paintbrush, but Messenger's shiny new toys are much more comprehensive, and even include holiday-specific masks and functions.
Also worth remembering - Messenger recently added classic video games into the mix, which you can play against your friends, another tool that's likely to prove popular over the holidays, adding to the various ways Messenger is looking to hold as much of our attention for as long as possible. And given the various options on offer, it's pretty likely it'll do exactly that.
So what does this mean for Snapchat?
It's hard to say - initial data after the release of Instagram Stories showed that Snapchat use was largely unaffected, which could suggest that Snapchat's user community is already strongly aligned to the app and not so likely to shift. But younger audiences tend to be more fickle and easily swayed - given a more interesting, shinier option, they may find it hard to resist. And as noted, this is where Facebook can really hurt Snapchat - we've know about Facebook's Lens-copying masks for some time, and their Prisma-like 'fine art filters'. But all of those tools are copies, they're duplicates of what users can get somewhere else. In order to really win, Facebook needs something new and fresh, which they are working on.
Check out this video from the Facebook engineering team which shows their in-development reactive tools that respond to various actions.
This is the technology that's behind their 'reactive filters' which enable users to push objects around on screen.
This is the sort of next-level type addition Facebook's working on, and these kinds of tools will be a big problem for Snap Inc., which has thus far been able to stay ahead of the competition by innovating faster.
In this sense, it's not just scale that Facebook's using to take on Snapchat, but creativity too.
Scale will likely be enough to slow Snapchat either way - you can imagine Facebook's new custom Photo Frames, similar to Snapchat's Geofilters, will prove popular among the platform's user base despite being a fairly direct copy.
But to really curb Snapchat's growth and keep users from switching across, Facebook's needs to come up with new takes, new options that will make it the cool app again, the thing that people want to tell their friends about.
With additions like these, they may just do that.
It'll be interesting to see the usage stats early in the new year.
The new Messenger Camera features are rolling out to all users globally, on iOS and Android, over "the coming days".
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