Instagram rolls out augmented reality filters after Snapchat's face swap success

Snap credited its viral AR filters with bringing in up to 9 million new users

Spark AR’s public beta on Instagram. Courtesy tech@Facebook
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Instagram rolled out augmented reality effects to all of its users on Wednesday in a competitive move against Snapchat's Lens Studio.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, has been testing its AR production software, called Spark AR Studio, for more than two years, but is now making it available to all Instagram users. Instagrammers can create their own AR filters in the Effect Gallery, which includes ready-made AR filters from up-and-coming artists, Facebook said.

Instagram Stories, where the AR tools are located, is accessed by 500 million unique users daily, more than double Snap's 203 million daily users it reported in the second quarter of this year.

However, Snap's AR-powered face filters – allowing users to swap genders, transform into baby-faced versions of themselves or achieve a #goldenhour glow, among other effects – have driven user growth and been a boost for its stock.

The company reported 13 million new users in the second quarter and estimated that as many as 9 million users joined because of the face filters.

“The timing of the filter appears to have driven a notable increase in engagement,” Mark Kelley, an analyst at Nomura Instinet, told Bloomberg last month.

Its share price went up threefold last month from a record low of $4.99 in December to trade at its highest level in more than a year following strong second-quarter results.

Facebook appears to be taking a page from Snap's playbook, moving its Spark AR platform out of beta mode, where it said more than 1 billion users, including Kylie Jenner, the NBA, Ariane Grande and Gucci, designed AR filters and shared them to their social media channels.

With other tech majors such as Apple are opening up AR platforms for app developers, Google adding AR to its maps app and Samsung making AR an integral part of its smartphones, analysts have been confident of the technology's success, forecasting massive growth.

However, research company Forrester found that new venture capital funding for AR in 2018 was $1.69 billion (Dh6.2bn), less than half the $3.58bn raised in 2017. “We believe such a dramatic pullback is in direct response to expensive and underwhelming results from early adopters of XR,” Forrester said, advising companies considering AR to “proceed with an abundance of caution”.