AR Social Media Could Be Mainstream by 2025
AR Social Media Could Be Mainstream by 2025
For most of us, Augmented Reality is something we mostly see watching science-fiction or using AR TikTok filters. Whether it’s AR billboards in Altered Carbon or the many 3D astroid trajectory maps in The Expanse, AR shows up as a widely used tool in our fictional visions of the future. When we say AR Social Media, we’re not talking about hologram projections of your friends in your room (yet, we’ll talk about that later).
At its earliest experiments, AR Social Media is, conceptually, everything social media currently is, but with some added augmented details. Imagine your Instagram or Twitter profile. It shows the number of followers, and a record of your every opinion and action right back to 2009.
Now imagine your friends can see that, just by pointing their phone at you.
Sounds like Black Mirror, right?
‘Nosedive’ shook us, too. However, the power of that episode was that it reflected our current experience of social media. AR social networking as it stands today is much more wholesome than the apps we already use.
As developers release more and more AR applications, the trends we’re seeing show a desire for more outdoor, in-person interactions. Social media should facilitate social outcomes, but how can AR help people achieve that?
What Does An AR Social Network Look Like In 2021?
In its earliest form, AR Social Media is an interesting project. While SnapChat’s AR filters have been around forever, AR Social Networks try to integrate 3D imaging outside the photo frame.
The most prominent apps available today are Octi, Snaappy and Picbeing. They are nothing alike, so it’s hard to pin down what will become standard. Some are based around playing AR games with your friends, while others are focussed on AR photo and video editing.
Sadly, only a few devices can support AR technology today, so not everyone can get involved from the outset. As augmented reality becomes more commonplace, new devices will be better equipped and we wil see new standards emerge.
If these walls could talk…
The feature that has us imagining an AR future is geotagging. Geotagging allows users to hide posts for their friends at specific locations around the world. This is the same technology used in Pokemon Go, which showed nearby Pokemon through users’ phones.
Social AR Geotagging could literally allow stories and memories to be embedded in the locations where they were created. On one hand, this could become a digital graffiti, with people posting ‘I was here’ all over town.
On the other, users might create digital monuments to their favourite events, showing future visitors where something important happened. Digital noticeboards might spring up, as people share events and news in public squares. Statues and Memorials could become the sites of publicly-curated, augmented reality museums as users share information, opinions and responses to the physical space. Many artists are already embracing this technology with AR exhibitions.
Or you might just leave a private message at a meeting place. ‘Went to get you a coffee, back in 5!’
Common Features of AR Social Media
Let’s take a look at the apps already hoping to become the new augmented reality social networks.
Snaappy – 3D characters for emotional communication – 1/5
Billed as helping users ‘tell your unique story in an unforgettable way’, Snaappy is the name of a bright blue 3D bear. He’s the ‘main character’ in a cast of bears which the developers hope will help make ‘virtual socializing […] brighter and cooler’.
Snaappy is set up with a TikTok-style scrolling video feed. Users can edit videos with 3D stickers and post them publicly. The makers are also proud of their live messaging. This means that users can see what their friends are typing as they type, rather than waiting for the message.
Other features include:
- AR video editor
- AR photo editor
- Geotagged messages
The idea is to support more open communication on social media, but we’re not sure Snaappy will take off. Most social apps allow users to add AR stickers to their photos and videos. It’s not clear what the developers think makes Snaappy unique, or how the geotagged messages will work. This augmented reality social media app seems more focussed on their 3D characters than anything else.
For example, another character is Snaappa, ‘a true lady who can help girls express their feelings’. Of course, she’s Snaappy’s girlfriend, who can ‘flutter her eyelashes’, ‘blush at the right moment’ and ‘get offended by the smallest things’. Like this description, perhaps?
Unfortunately for Snaappy, their live messaging feature is the only thing that’s new here. Is it enough to make their app exciting?
Picbeing – Geotagged Photo Sharing – 3/5
The main selling point of Picbeing is that users can capture images in AR and leave them at the exact location. This means users can return to a place and revisit their memories through the app. Users can be creative, using their camera to draw on real-world objects.
The developers also include AR versions of classic games such as Paper Toss, Cone Dodge and Virtual Bowling. There are also AR advertising opportunities within the app and geotagged Easter Eggs are hidden around the world.
While this is a fantastic augmented reality photo app, the social networking aspects are still a little unclear. We’ll be keeping an eye to see how Picbeing’s platform develops as an AR social network in the next few years.
Octi – A Wearable Profile Page – 4/5
In our view, Octi is the closest to what we imagine when we think of an AR social network. Once you connect with a friend, you can focus your camera on them to view Octi’s main feature: the AR Profile Belt.
This is a belt which hovers around the person showing their name, details and interests. When your friends look at you through their phones, they’ll see your latest posts. You can also post to someone else’s belt.
While this might seem a little weird, Octi’s aim is to create “a socially responsible tech company that values the privacy and data of our users”. As such, the app’s facial recognition software works through what their developers describe as a ‘neural network on the edge’. The images are processed within the device, rather than uploading to the cloud, so privacy remains a core value.
Octi is designed to be used primarily in person, so it is a very different experience of social media than what we’ve had for the last decade. The designers believe this makes it a more social network than others because your social media friends are ‘actually’ your friends.
Social AR Projects In Motion
In September 2020, Facebook announced its development of AR Glasses – Project Aria.
“Imagine a pair of glasses that add a 3D layer of useful, contextually-relevant and meaningful information on top of the physical world. Such a device could help us perform everyday tasks better — like finding your keys, navigating a new city, or capturing a moment; but it could also open up an entirely new way of moving through the world.”FaceBook – Reality Labs – Project Aria
The glasses, at present, are just a research tool. Facebook employees and researchers will wear the glasses on campuses and gather data which will inform the further development of Project Aria.
So while this is not an AR social network, it is an AR tool developed by a social network.
Aria’s launch video shows examples of the kinds of ‘contextually-relevant and meaningful information’ the glasses could layer onto your visual field. These include markers to help you find your way or highlight products you might want when you’re in a store.
It’s not an inconceivable jump for Facebook’s Aria glasses to pick out your friends in a crowd. Or to show geotagged posts as you walk by, or allow you to share your latest AR sculpture to other Aria users.
With AR capable glasses, paired with a 3D imaging webcam, video chats could become far closer to projections. There’s no evidence just yet, but when anything can be layered onto your visual field, then live hologram chats might become the social mode of the future.
Like Octi, FaceBook are learning the lessons of over a decade of social media. Project Aria researchers are transparent about their approach, which is to establish best practices long before AR social networking becomes mainstream. They’ve released a document detailing their principles of responsible innovation. This highlights the key steps they’ve taken to ensure Aria research does not infringe on the privacy of the general public.
“Before any information gathered in a public place is made available to our researchers, it will be automatically scrubbed to blur faces and vehicle license plates.”FaceBook – Reality Labs – Project Aria
These early acknowledgements of privacy risks show that AR social network designers are aware of public perceptions.
Once AR glasses such as Aria and Google Glass are more prevalent, social media will be more user friendly. If things progress as they are, we can see augmented reality becoming widely accepted as a social tool in the next few years. Eat that, Charlie Brooker.