‘Star Wars’ Stickers and World Filters: Facebook and Google Are Trying to Catch Up on AR

AR Studio Open Beta_Partner Effects
Courtesy of Facebook

Alongside the update to the latest version of Android, Google is currently delivering a nice little extra to owners of the company’s Pixel line of phones. Anyone who takes a video with the Pixel can now add so-called AR Stickers — including  some scary Stormtroopers, just in time for the release of “The Last Jedi.”

These AR stickers have been built with ARCore, Google’s new framework for phone-based augmented reality (AR) experiences. Introduced in August, ARCore makes use of a phone’s camera to map a room, and then place virtual objects on top of the camera view that behave like they were really there. Walk closer, and the Stormtrooper gets bigger. Duck, and you’ll look at him from below.

If that sounds vaguely familiar, then it’s because Apple introduced something very similar with ARKit earlier this year. Announced at the company’s WWDC event in June, Apple began shipping ARKit as part of the update to iOS 11 this fall. ARKit is compatible with the iPhone 6s, and any iPhone that has been released since, as well as the company’s most recent iPads — guaranteeing developers a potential audience of hundreds of millions of devices.

Google can’t quite promise the same footprint. A relatively small percentage of Android phones run the latest version of the operating system; and with thousands of different devices in the market, it’s much more difficult for the company to adapt ARCore to countless hardware variations. That’s why it’s no surprise that Google is, at least for now, limiting its new AR stickers to the phones the company makes itself. A wider release of ARCore is expected for early 2018.

Not to be left out, Facebook opened the floodgates for its own AR developer framework Tuesday. Facebook is now allowing any developer to build AR filters for its camera app, using the company’s AR Studio technology. The company previously partnered with select developers to build AR filters, including one that lets anyone become the Night King from “Game of Thrones.”

Facebook first previewed AR Studio at its f8 developer conference earlier this year. CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained how he didn’t want to wait around for AR glasses, and instead embrace the phone cameras what he called “the first augmented reality platform.”

Facebook’s AR filters make use of some of the same technologies also used by Apple and Google, but the company aims its development much more closely at another competitor: Snapchat, which has been dabbling in AR for some time as well. That’s also apparent in another feature coming to AR Studio soon. The company announced Tuesday that developers will soon be able to build so-called “World Lenses,” which will make it possible to add virtual objects to one’s environment — much like the Stormtroopers that are now available to Pixel owners.

Except, in Facebook’s iteration, all of this will be tied to the company’s own camera apps — much like Snapchat has been doing it with its own World Lenses since April. Now, Facebook wants to do with AR what it previously did with Snapchat’s Stories feature: Bring it everywhere, from Messenger conversations to your Facebook feed to Stories in their many iterations across all of its apps.

All of this means that you’re going to see a lot more AR-enhanced face filters and virtual objects pop up in videos everywhere. In other words: Don’t be concerned if one of your friends posts a video of him getting attacked by Stormtroopers. They’re just here to fight in the AR platform wars.