On Tuesday, Facebook kicked off its annual F8 developer conference with a keynote address. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and others on his executive team made a bunch of announcements aimed at developers, but the implications for Facebook’s users was pretty clear. The apps that billions of us use daily—Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram—are going to be getting new camera tricks, new augmented reality capabilities, and more bots. So many bots! (Also, so many breakfast sharks.) More announcements about VR and forward-thinking tech were made during Wednesday’s keynote. Here’s our list of the biggest news to come out of F8.
01.The Camera Is Everything
Facebook was pretty clear about one thing in the F8 keynote: the camera is now the most important thing on your phone. Sharing photos and videos with your friends will continue to be huge, sure. But soon the camera will begin powering new augmented reality experiences inside Facebook. You’ll get games and photo filters, and your surroundings will soon be awash in playful and informational metadata that you can only see by lifting up your handset, opening the Facebook app, and viewing the world through the camera.
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02.VR Gets Social
Social VR comes to life with the new Facebook Spaces, a virtual reality app that lets you (or, really, a cartoonish avatar of yourself) hang out with friends inside your headset. What you do in this virtual world remains to be seen. Throw a birthday party and draw 3-D party hats on your guests? Visit the International Space Station and take selfies from orbit? The app launches today as a beta. Build whatever kind of weird, virtual world you want—as long as you have the requisite Oculus gear. Also read Peter Rubin’s Spaces story.
03.Music and Games in Messenger
Move aside, WhatsApp. Facebook’s making Messenger the place to talk to your friends. New integrations bring games and music into the platform so you can share the latest Chainsmokers song or launch a Words With Friends match—without ever closing your chat window. The full potential depends on what developers bring to the table, but for now, Messenger is synced up with Spotify and promised an integration with Apple Music soon.
04.AR Will Be Huge
Facebook’s new augmented reality tools will let you place virtual objects into the real world when you view your surroundings through your phone. Leave messages on the fridge for your spouse, or tag businesses with floating notes and tips written on walls. We’ll get AR games that incorporate real-world objects thanks to a technology called “SLAM” (simultaneous localization and mapping) that lays a 3-D grid over the table in front of you, turning it into a gameboard. Also, we’ll get AR art, pieces only viewable through your phone. As Zuckerberg said, “This is going to be a thing in the future—people standing around looking at blank walls.”
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05.Frames and Masks
The Camera Effects platform is Facebook’s attempt at making photos and videos more Snapchat-y. Released today, Frame Studio and AR Studio are tools that enable developers and artists to create AR content. Frame Studio allows devs to make 2D overlays—similar to Snapchat geotags—that reside on the borders of the photo or video. The AR studio lets developers create 3D masks that track and respond to facial movement (like Snapchat’s Dog mask, which sticks out its tongue when you open your mouth) without having to write any code. These tools aren’t anything we haven’t seen before, but they make creating AR content more accessible.
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06.Messenger Bots Get More Capable
You’re in a Lyft, gliding over to Veronica’s house for girls’ night, chatting in Messenger all the while. Somebody suggests Thai food, and the Messenger bots go to work. Your favorite restaurant pops up, everyone browses the menu and adds their desired items to the cart, and the bot handles the mobile payment. Later, when you decide on a movie, a bot appears with a list of showtimes and helps everyone buy their tickets. You’ll begin seeing many more of these types of interactions as Facebook expands the role bots play within Chat Extensions. Read David Pierce’s story about Messenger’s future.
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80 percent of the developers building apps for Facebook’s platform are outside the US. That global developer base is widespread, and not all of those coders have access to the same educational resources and infrastructure support. About a year ago, Facebook launched a pilot program called Developer Circles intent on spreading knowledge, and now the program is expanding. Developers in Circles participate in community meetups, skills workshops, and hacking sessions. The end result is a wider range of people building better apps for Facebook, a win for the company’s plans for global expansion.
Hey, remember M? Wouldn’t blame you if you forgot about it. Facebook’s mobile AI assistant often gets overshadowed by Google Assistant, Alexa, and even weird ol’ Siri. But Facebook is still beefing up M’s capabilities, and the AI will continue to get smarter over time, the company said at F8. M will soon allow businesses to make automation tools for managing customer interactions. There’s also a new M Suggest feature, which will jump in when you’re chatting about dinner, like your always-starving pal, to offer food recommendations.
09.Mobile 360 Giveaway
Facebook would like all of us to share more videos—especially the ones we create ourselves. Specifically, 360-degree, spherical videos, which anyone can now livestream to viewers in phone-based VR headsets. To kickstart the sharing and streaming, Facebook gave F8 attendees each a Giroptic iO 360 camera for mobile phones. Paul Sarconi spent some time with it and wrote a review.
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On the second day of F8, Facebook unveiled blueprints for two new cameras designed to capture spherical video with extreme fidelity. These are massive orbs with as many as 24 individual lenses capable of capturing video with “six degrees of freedom,” Facebook claims. The Surround360 x24 and x6 are both big and expensive, so you’re more likely to rent one for a production than actually buy one. And unlike the VR camera designs Facebook released last year, these new designs are not open-source.
11.Other Ways to Hear
One year ago, Regina Dugan, the former head of Darpa who was running the Advanced Technologies and Projects lab at Google, took on a similar role at Facebook. She’s making waves at her new job. Dugan took the stage on Wednesday to wow F8 attendees with video demonstrations of technologies that allow people to interact with computers using their thoughts and to pick up audio waves through their skin. Heady stuff, and still years away from being used in commercial applications. But it shows that when it comes to human communication, Dugan’s team at Facebook is exploring some pretty unconventional avenues.