Snap bets big on new augmented reality features for Snapchat

Snapchat app icon on a mobile device
Snap hopes its investments in augmented reality will help its Snapchat app capitalize on the e-commerce boom.
(Associated Press)

Snap Inc. is more aggressively embracing augmented reality, showing off a new version of its glasses with AR and expanding shopping features to compete in e-commerce with other social media platforms such as Facebook and TikTok.

The Santa Monica company said it has upgraded augmented reality technology to let those on the popular Snapchat app use their voices and gestures to make changes in Lenses, or animated overlays, on photos and videos. The announcements were made Thursday at Snap’s annual partner summit, where the company outlines innovations and upgrades to its app.

Snapchat, most known for ephemeral videos and its popularity among teenagers and young adults, has more than 500 million monthly active users, and roughly 40% of its members are outside North America and Europe, the company said.

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The new products are a “meaningful step forward in our platform strategy,” Chief Executive Evan Spiegel said in an interview.


Snap also released the next iteration of Spectacles, glasses that are now powered by augmented reality. The product isn’t available for general sale, but rather is aimed at spurring creators to design experiences that mesh the real world with digital overlays. The glasses “redefine the way we interact with and see the world,” Spiegel said at the summit.

Snapchat also improved the visibility of the Scan feature, which works with partner companies to let people use the app’s camera to identify things such as types of plants, dog breeds, wine bottles and car models. Snapchat users also can scan an outfit and receive recommendations to buy similar looks from hundreds of brands.

The company said it was teaming up with the dating app Bumble to enable users to send their matches video notes with Snapchat AR products. It also announced a partnership with Walt Disney Co. to allow tourists at Walt Disney World to incorporate Snap AR experiences into their visits and photos.

The company also introduced a new way for popular creators to monetize their videos by enabling fans to pay money to send them “gifts,” which can be traded in for cash. Previously, Snap announced it would pay $1 million a day to creators of the top-performing posts. It said Thursday that more than 5,400 creators have earned more than $130 million as part of the program.

Shares of Snap rose 5.9% on Thursday. They had gained 7.7% this year through Wednesday’s close.

Snap hopes its investments in augmented reality will help its app capitalize on the e-commerce boom. As the spread of COVID-19 dissuaded many people from shopping in person, more advertisers experimented with AR shopping experiences such as enabling customers to virtually try on clothes, accessories or beauty products from their homes. Augmented reality layers digital information on top of real-life images.

Snap’s push into augmented reality is just one part of its strategy to deliver multiple years of 50%-plus revenue growth in the future. Other companies such as Facebook Inc., Pinterest Inc., Inc. and TikTok parent ByteDance Ltd. have also made new investments in AR.

Snap has made some recent acquisitions to bolster its AR technology, including the $124.4-million purchase of Fit Analytics, a tech company that uses machine learning and webcams to enable users to create personalized fit profiles. The company said it was introducing new technology to enable more accurate experiences trying on eyewear, watches, jewelry and full-body outfits. More brands will also be able to create their own business landing pages on the app to house their AR campaigns.

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