Facebook is overhauling its in-app camera to embrace the next era of augmented reality visual communication pioneered by Snapchat. The new features include Snapchat-style animated selfie masks, overlaid graphics, and geofilters; Prisma-esque fine art-themed style transfer filters and some innovative new “reactive” filters that respond to your body’s movements.
What Facebook is calling “the new camera” will be instantly accessible from the News Feed with a quick right swipe. And instead of just News Feed broadcasting, you’ll be able to to privately share the photos and videos you make in one-on-one threads through the new ephemeral Facebook Direct inbox.
Facebook will begin by testing these features in Ireland today. But company tells me “We may test more variations of these before rolling this out globally”, so these will come to everyone eventually.
“We want to make visual sharing on faceobok fast, fun, and flexible” says the new camera’s product manager Sachin Monga. The features could rivitalize original sharing on Facebook, which a report by The Information says declined 21% between mid-2014 and mid-2015, and down 15% year over year as of April 2016.
Facebook may not be able to squash Snapchat, but by copying its best features, it could become good enough that more users are tempted to shift to sharing with the competitor.
Monga calls today’s changes “The next iteration of our test on the camera”, following a from August test I called ‘CameraFeed’. That gaves users in Canada and Brazil their first taste of augmented reality selfie masks from Facebook’s acquisition of MSQRD. It also put an open camera window atop the News Feed.
Today’s test is a little more conservative, placeing the camera off-screen to the left of the News Feed, but making it quickly accessible with a swipe or tap of a Camera button in the top left of the screen. This way, you don’t surprise yourself with a mirror image of your triple-chin every time you open Facebook.
Once you open the new camera, you can swipe down to see the different filters Facebook has created, or tap the creative tools buttons to add more effects. Those include everything from pieces of clothing and accessories you can stick on, to geofilters that show stylized graphics describing where you are, to filters that make your footage look like it was painted by Van Gogh.
Facebook’s real innovation beyond Snapchat and Prisma are the reactive filters. They cover the screen in leaves you can wave around with your arms, or cool little colored line patterns you can disrupt with your movements.
Once you’ve created your Faceterpiece, you can post it to the News Feed like normal, or share it with the new Direct private messaging feature. Instead of having to share with tons of people, you can create special conversations about the piece of media you shared. When you send an image or video to someone via Direct, they’ll get a notification and see an alert jewel overlaid on the new Direct inbox in the top right corner of the News Feed.
There, they can view and respond, with comments showing up overlaid on the piece of media rather than in empty text boxes. Each image can only be viewed once, and then once more within 24 hours using a “replay”. If someone doesn’t respond, and goes 24 hours without using their replay, the conversation ephemerally disappears, similar to Snapchat’s direct messaging feature.