Since opening up its Lens Studio last year, which enables creators to build their own AR lenses within the app, Snapchat says that more than 100,000 unique Lenses have been created, a huge, and growing, library of virtual masks and visual tools which are now available within the app.
The problem is, not everyone can access these creative experiments, something Snap’s looking to resolve with the introduction of ‘Lens Explorer’ – “an easier way to discover and unlock thousands of Lenses built by Snapchatters around the world”.
The option aims to further promote the use of Lenses, which have already proven hugely popular in the app, while also expanding the potential pool of creators who could come up with the next viral hit (ala ‘Dancing Hotdog’).
To use the new option, users can tap the new face icon that appears near the top right of screen when the Lens Carousel is active. Once tapped, you’ll be taken to a full-screen listing of community created Lens tools (middle image above) which you can try for yourself by tapping any Lens tile. You'll also be able to browse Lenses in featured Stories, then try them out for yourself by swiping up on Snaps within those Stories.
As noted, Lenses have played a key role in Snapchat’s success. According to Snapchat’s data, more than 70 million people access their AR Lenses every day, using the tools for an average of three minutes per session. That’s a lot of engagement activity to consider - and with Snap moving to add more advertiser tools to Lenses, and research suggesting that the use of AR tools is going to rise some 50% in the next three years, it makes sense for Snap to make them even more of a focus, and to broaden access to their existing Lens tools.
Though it is interesting to note the shift in approach. Snapchat has long been very secretive, very insular in its product strategy, using its internal nous for innovation to get ahead. Facebook recognized that it may not have the internal creative capacity to compete with Snap on this front, which is why they opened up their AR Studio to all creators, essentially democratizing the creative process – and greatly expanding its potential pool of AR innovation.
Given Facebook’s moves, Snap, in many ways, was forced to open up its tools to all creators too, and this new option is another nod to Facebook’s approach. The question now is whether it's going to help Snapchat come up with the next big AR hit.
It is also interesting to note the gradual evolution of Snap’s AR tools, with a whole section of filters now dedicated to games within the app.
We haven’t seen any official data as yet regarding how AR games like these are being received, but they do open up new opportunities, especially for advertising within the app, so it makes sense for Snap to push ahead with them.
It’ll be interesting to see how audiences are responding to these tools when Snap reports its next results in a month.