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Once ‘so sad’, Snapchat is back in the frame

Once ‘so sad’, Snapchat is back in the frame
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Once ‘so sad’, Snapchat is back in the frame

Once ‘so sad’, Snapchat is back in the frame

What clearly excites Murphy, who gives relatively few interviews, is Snapchat’s rapidly growing augmented reality work. Through Snapchat’s camera, users can morph into a horse, a nonna, or a fish. Popular landmarks can come to life, some in a disconcerting style reminiscent of the 2010 movie Inception. Others show more about the historical figures they memorialise. Murphy’s favourite is a wall of memories at Cindarella’s Castle in Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park in Florida where visitors can submit a photo to an ever-expanding mural visible through an app. “It’s just a fantastic demonstration of our location technology and a great way for any park visitors to connect,” he says. It must be the technology that Murphy finds most appealing because he has not yet been there to see it in person.

These features are undeniably fun, though there are some that focus squarely on physical attractiveness, making a user more square-jawed, for example. Paired with Snapchat’s Discover tab, which is filled with models and clickbait headlines like “This Kiss Challenge Goes Crazy Viral!“, it is the sort of content that could spark parental anxiety for body-conscious teens. Some is from independent publishers that Snapchat does not pre-moderate; other posts are from influencers it checks. All content is checked against the company’s policies once it goes live, Snapchat says, to ensure none is hateful or harmful.

There is another kind of augmented reality technology that Snapchat is betting on: virtual try-ons of garments and shoes. It works reasonably well, with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age donning a virtual North Face jacket and Louis Vuitton sunglasses. The advantage is you can see how they look on you. The downside is that you are not as good-looking as the model that wears the items in store photos, and the try-on sometimes glitches a little. The idea is that eventually users will be able to browse a host of clothes directly through Snapchat and quickly purchase.

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In some ways, Snapchat’s focus on online try-ons of real-world objects is the opposite way to how other social media companies, such as Facebook owner Meta, are going. Meta sees the metaverse, an ill-defined concept that at its core refers to the idea of fully virtual simulated environments, as the future of its $US550 billion company.

Murphy doesn’t mention Meta directly, but clearly has some scepticism about the relative promise of the metaverse. “We see augmented reality as a much bigger opportunity than the metaverse,” Murphy says. The reason is that it allows for more interaction with the real world.

Consider, for example, a construction firm meeting where you can see your real colleagues through special glasses but also an augmented reality version of the planned bridge that you are building. That seems plainly more compelling than a fully virtual tour of a site.

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Murphy is more positive about non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. These are signifiers of ownership of some form of digital asset, like a digital illustration, held on a blockchain. So far, many NFT investments have proved speculative, with values soaring and crashing because they are not tied to something of inherent value. Snapchat seems as good a place as any to change that because it is not hard to imagine people paying to incorporate art, filters or augmented reality effects into their snaps (though that could be accomplished without NFTs).

“The concept of NFTs is certainly very interesting,” Murphy says. “Just insofar as it is becoming a format that allows for compensation for digital assets. And I think you’re totally right that there is potential in augmented reality. So yeah, it’s an area that we’re that we’re starting to explore a little bit.”

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