Snapchat preps Snapkit platform to bring camera, login to other apps

Snapchat preps Snapkit platform to bring camera, login to other apps

Snapchat is secretly planning the launch of its first full-fledged developer platform, currently called Snapkit. The platform’s prototypes indicate it will let other apps offer a “login with Snapchat” options, use the Bitmoji avatars it acquired and host a version of Snap’s full-featured camera software that can share back to Snapchat. Multiple sources confirm Snap Inc. is currently in talks with several app developers to integrate Snapkit.

The platform could breathe new life into plateauing Snapchat by colonizing the mobile app ecosystem with its login buttons and content. Facebook used a similar strategy to become a ubiquitous utility with tentacles touching everyone’s business. But teens, long skeptical of Facebook and unsettled by the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, could look to Snapchat for a privacy-safe way to log in to other apps without creating a new username and password.

Snap Inc. declined to comment on this story.

Years of developer neglect

Snapchat is making a big course correction in its strategy here after years of rejecting outside developers. In 2014, unofficial apps that let you surreptitiously save Snaps but required your Snapchat credentials caused data breaches, leading the company to reiterate its ban on using them. It also shut off sharing from a popular third-party music video sharing app called Mindie. In fact, Snap’s terms of service still say “You will not use or develop any third-party applications that interact with the Services or other users’ content or information without our written consent.”

A year ago I wrote that “Snap’s anti-developer attitude is an augmented liability” since it would be tough to populate the physical world with AR experiences unless it has help like Facebook had started recruiting. By December, Snapchat had launched Lens Studio, which lets brands and developers build limited AR content for the app. And it’s been building out its cadre of marketing and analytics partners with which brands can work.

Yet until now, Snapchat hadn’t created functionality that developers could use in their own apps. Snapkit will change that. We don’t know when it will be announced or launched, or who will be the initial developers who take advantage of it. But with Snapchat slipping to its lowest user growth rate ever after being pummeled by competition from Facebook and Instagram, the company needs more than a puppy face filter to regain the spotlight.

SnapPlat

According to sources familiar with Snap’s discussions with potential developers, Snapkit’s login with Snapchat feature is designed to let users sign up for new apps with their Snapchat credentials instead of creating new ones. Because Snap doesn’t collect much personal info about you, unlike Facebook, there’s less data to worry about accidentally giving to developers or them misusing. Displaying its branded button on various app’s signup pages could lure in new Snapchat users or reengage lapsed ones. It’s also the key to developing tighter ties between Snap and other apps, even if users sign up for apps another way.

One benefit of another app knowing who you are on Snapchat, which the company plans to provide with Snapkit, is the ability to bring your Bitmoji avatar with you. Snapchat acquired Bitmoji’s parent company Bitstrips for just $64.2 million in 2016, but the cartoonish personalized avatar app has been a staple of the top 10 chart since. It remains one of Snapchat’s most differentiated offerings, as Facebook has only recently begun work on its clone called Facebook Avatars.

While Bitmoji has offered a keyboard full of your avatar in different scenes, Snapkit could make it easy to add yours as stickers on photos or in other ways in third-party apps. Seeing them across the mobile universe could inspire more users to create their own Bitmoji lookalike.

Snapchat is also working on a way for developers to integrate its editing tool-laden and AR-equipped camera into their own apps. Instead of having to reinvent the wheel if they want to permit visual sharing and inevitably building a poor knockoff, apps could just add Snapchat’s polished camera. The idea is the photos and videos shot with the camera could then be used in that app as well as shared back to Snapchat. Similar to Facebook and Instagram Stories opening up to posts from third-parties, this could inject fresh forms of content into Snapchat at a time when usage is slipping.

Launching a platform also means Snapchat will take on new risks, as third-parties with access to user data could be breached. Snap also will have to convince developers that making it easier for its 191 million daily users to join their apps is worth the engineering resources, given how that community is dwarfed by the multi-billion user Google and Facebook login systems. Login with Snapchat could be especially popular with teen-focused anonymous, or dating, apps you don’t want connected to your Facebook profile.

Snapchat has struggled to get out of Facebook’s shadow despite inventing or acquiring what would become some of the hottest trends in social. Yet Snap Inc. could develop alliances with a platform that leverages its differentiators — a teen audience that doesn’t care for Facebook, inherent privacy and custom avatars. Through an army of developers, Snapchat might find the firepower to challenge the blue empire.

For more on Snapchat and its competitors, check out our other coverage:

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

‘Facebook Avatars’ is its new clone of Snapchat’s Bitmoji

‘Facebook Avatars’ is its new clone of Snapchat’s Bitmoji

Hidden inside the code of Facebook’s Android app is an unreleased feature called Facebook Avatars that lets people build personalized, illustrated versions of themselves for use as stickers in Messenger and comments. It will let users customize their avatar to depict their skin color, hair style and facial features. Facebook Avatars is essentially Facebook’s version of Snapchat’s acquisition, Bitmoji, which has spent years in the top-10 apps chart.

Back in October I wrote that “Facebook seriously needs its own Bitmoji,” and it seems the company agrees. Facebook has become the identity layer for the internet, allowing you to bring your personal info and social graph to other services. But as the world moves toward visual communication, a name or static profile pic aren’t enough to represent us and our breadth of emotions. Avatars hold the answer, as they can be contorted to convey our reactions to all sorts of different situations when we’re too busy or camera-shy to take a photo.

The screenhots come courtesy of eagle-eyed developer Jane Manchun Wong, who found the Avatars in the Facebook for Android application package — a set of files that often contain features that are unreleased or in testing. Her digging also contributed to TechCrunch’s reports about Instagram’s music stickers and Twitter’s unlaunched encrypted DMs.

Facebook confirmed it’s building Avatars, telling me, “We’re looking into more ways to help people express themselves on Facebook.” However, the feature is still early in development and Facebook isn’t sure when it will start publicly testing.

In the onboarding flow for the feature, Facebook explains that “Your Facebook Avatar is a whole new way to express yourself on Facebook. Leave expressive comments with personalized stickers. Use your new avatar stickers in your Messenger group and private chats.” The Avatars should look like the images on the far right of these screenshot tests. You can imagine Facebook creating an updating reel of stickers showing your avatar in happy, sad, confused, angry, bored or excited scenes to fit your mood.

Currently it’s unclear whether you’ll have to configure your Avatar from a blank starter face, or whether Facebook will use machine vision and artificial intelligence to create one based on your photos. The latter is how the Facebook Spaces VR avatars (previewed in April 2017) are automatically generated.

Facebook shows off its 3D VR avatars at F8 2018. The new Facebook Avatars are 2D and can be used in messaging and comments.

Using AI to start with a decent lookalike of you could entice users to try Avatars and streamline the creation process so you just have to make small corrections. However, the AI could creep people out, make people angry if it misrepresents them or generate monstrous visages no one wants to see. Given Facebook’s recent privacy scandals, I’d imagine it would play it conservatively with Avatars and just ask users to build them from scratch. If Avatars grow popular and people are eager to use them, it could always introduce auto-generation from your photos later.

Facebook has spent at least three years trying to figure out avatars for VR. What started as generic blue heads evolved to take on basic human characteristics, real skin tones and more accurate facial features, and are now getting quite lifelike. You can see that progression up top. Last week at F8, Facebook revealed that it’s developing a way to use facial tracking sensors to map real-time expressions onto a photo-realistic avatar of a user so they can look like themselves inside VR, but without the headset on.

But as long as Facebook’s Avatars are trapped in VR, they’re missing most of their potential.

Bitmoji’s parent company Bitstrips launched in 2008, and while its comic strip creator was cool, it was the personalized emoji avatar feature that was most exciting. Snapchat acquired Bitstrips for a mere $64.2 million in early 2016, but once it integrated Bitmoji into its chat feature as stickers, the app took off. It’s often risen higher than Snapchat itself, and even Facebook’s ubiquitous products on the App Store charts, and was the No. 1 free iOS app as recently as February. Now Snapchat lets you use your Bitmoji avatar as a profile pic, online status indicator in message threads, as 2D stickers and as 3D characters that move around in your Snaps.

It’s actually surprising that Facebook has waited this long to clone Bitmoji, given how popular Instagram Stories and its other copies of Snapchat features have become. Facebook comment reels and Messenger threads could get a lot more emotive, personal and fun when the company eventually launches its own Avatars.

Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said that visual communication is replacing text, but that’s forced users to either use generic emoji out of convenience or deal with the chore and self-consciousness of shooting a quick photo or video. Especially in Stories, which will soon surpass feeds as the main way we share social media, people need a quick way to convey their identity and emotion. Avatars let your identity scale to whatever feeling you want to transmit without the complications of the real world.

For more on the potential of Facebook Avatars, read our piece calling for their creation:

Source: Mobile – Techcruch