Feedback Loup: Snapchat Announces Diminished Reality

On Tuesday, Snapchat rolled out new features to its platform, including an infinite snap timer, looped videos, emoji drawing, and a magic eraser. With the new snap timer and looped videos, recipients will now be able to see a picture or video until they choose to exit the snap. Once the recipient exits the snap, it is deleted. These are nominal improvements but they show the direction and emphasis of Snap’s R&D as well as it’s technical chops in the field of Augmented Reality.

We are most excited about the Magic Eraser feature, an example of Diminished Reality. The Magic Eraser allows users to remove objects from a photo, by scanning the surrounding colors and filling in over a selected area. Let’s play a quick game of Photo Hunt. How many changes do you see?

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Feedback Loup: Clips

Yesterday Apple released Clips, a new app for iPhone users. Apple describes Clips as, “A new iOS app for making and sharing fun videos with text, effects, graphics, and more.” And Clips is fun, but it doesn’t show us the kind of augmented reality lenses and layers that we were hoping to see from Apple.

We’ve written a lot about how AR will change the way we interact with computers. Over the next several years, the smartphone will increasingly become a window through which users can see an augmented world. Players like Apple and Google are well-positioned to win the jump ball to own the dominant operating systems in that new paradigm. Google’s leadership in core disciplines like maps, data, and content make it an important incumbent. Apple’s leadership among app developers and payments will be important, but we think design is Apple’s trump card in AR. But Clips is more filters and effects than lenses and layers. There is an interesting real-time transcription capability, but unfortunately Clips is short on true AR.

In about 5 min. I was able to put together a short video with text, effects, filters, and music. Clips uses fairly rudimentary real-time computer imaging, but this could be the beginning of the underlying technology that will one day direct you to your seat in a stadium, overlay talking points during a presentation, or provide instructions as you assemble new furniture.

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Feedback Loup: Google Daydream

Google’s smartphone-powered VR platform, Daydream, represents the company’s most significant push to date in its effort to accelerate the adoption of VR. We’ve spent the last few weeks testing the platform with a Pixel phone and a Daydream View headset. Bottom line: Daydream isn’t there yet, but the platform establishes a solid foundation for the future of “low-immersion” VR.

Along with Samsung’s Gear VR  platform and Google Cardboard, we continue to believe these smartphone-powered, low-immersion platforms will drive the global VR user base above 100m by 2018. We expect the vast majority of VR users will be using low-immersion VR over the next several years. Low-immersion platforms are the on ramp for high-immersion VR platforms like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, so it is important to understand the low-immersion platforms of today in order to anticipate broader high-immersion use and the future of VR more broadly.

Hardware, software and content are all critical components for the future of VR, but our experience with Daydream left us feeling that content represents the biggest near-term opportunity to show the power of VR.

Hardware: Daydream is powered by Daydream-ready Android phones running the Nougat operating system. Currently, there are 4 Daydream-ready phones, including Pixel, with (many) more on the way. After a month-long wait, we used a Pixel ($649) for our testing of the Daydream platform. These phones pair with the Daydream View headset ($79), which is the best smartphone-powered VR headset we’ve ever used.

Daydream View is the best VR headset we’ve ever used.

Unlike some headsets we’ve tried, Daydream View is wearable. The soft fabric and angled head strap are clear signs of thoughtful design, built for wearability. Plus, in what seems like an industry first, it’s even comfortable for users with glasses. Daydream View comes with a remote control that we found easy to set up and intuitive to use. The remote conveniently nests in the viewer when not in use. Sound can be heard directly from the phone’s speakers, but it’s more immersive to use the easily accessible headphone jack on the Pixel.

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Feedback Loup: College Panel

We recently hosted a panel of 8 college students from the University of Minnesota. The goal was to better understand how millennials think about social media, communications, video, VR, AR, the selfie generation, the future of work, and privacy. Here’s a summary of what we learned:

Text Is Dying

  • Quote: “Texting replaced email, and photos have replaced text messages”.
  • Message: Text is being used less frequently by each of our panelists. They view text as a formal way to communicate. Snap, Facebook and Instagram are the preferred communication platforms, with Facebook settings being switched to photos only. The panelists mentioned tech platforms promoting messaging within games as a way to maintain usage.
  • Takeaway: Text is slowly going away, replaced by video and photos. Text is viewed more as a formal way to communicate.

Fake News

  • Quote: “I like Snap for news.”
  • Message: Our panelists get their news from a wide variety of sources. 7 of 8 panelists are not concerned about fake news. Snap was the most popular way to aggregate news from traditional sources (3 of 8), followed by mainstream news outlets; e.g., CNN and WSJ.
  • Takeaway: Professional news is still respected but not paid for by these college students.

The Future of Work

  • Quote: “It’s scary. If we can’t have cashiers, truckers and fast food jobs. . . how will people live?”
  • Message: College students know they are entering a workforce that will have dramatic changes over the next 30 years. They have concerns about who’s going to control everything as resources become more concentrated. The University of Minnesota offers a class titled “Size of the Future” that addresses the risk of job loss to automation. The group did consider these changes when thinking about a career, with an increased interest in a more technical education that feels more defensible. Ultimately these students believe that the negative impact of lost jobs will be partially offset by the positive impact of new industries being formed.
  • Takeaway: College students understand that the workforce is changing. They envision social challenges emerging from displacement of workers with lower levels of education. But they believe a college education will ensure that their futures are safe.

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Feedback Loup: Snapchat

We think customer feedback is a critical (but too often overlooked) component of understanding where technology stands today and where it’s headed in the future. Our Feedback Loup series provides real customer feedback on the technologies shaping our future. Snap’s IPO is a perfect opportunity to step back and gather comments from Snapchat users on their habits and practices from frequency to filters.

Snap’s public offering is great for the tech industry and is a huge accomplishment for the company. We summarized our thoughts in an open letter to the company, touching on managing expectations while chasing a bold long-term vision. We’re big fans of the direction they are heading with their core AR capabilities and budding hardware lineup. We recently argued that Snap is an augmented reality powerhouse because Snap combines market-leading AR technology with dedicated cameras, like Spectacles, to deliver an unmatched user experience.

But we wanted to bring the Snap story to life, gather some real user feedback and, for novices, show you why people love using Snapchat. So we asked 32 college students – a small “buzz” survey within a core demographic – about how they use Snapchat. Here’s some of what we heard:

Key Data Points from our Buzz Survey of College Students:

  • 66% snap more today than they did 6 months ago
  • The average user snaps 37.8 times per day
  • 69% send more than 5 snaps per day
  • 41% could recall a specific ad they saw on Snapchat

We know Snapchat’s global user base is growing rapidly. Our data suggests that college Snapchat users are also using the service more often. 66% of the students we spoke with said they snap more now than they did 6 months ago, 28% snap less frequently today, and 6% snap roughly the same amount.

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