Facebook animates photo-realistic avatars to mimic VR users’ faces

Facebook animates photo-realistic avatars to mimic VR users’ faces

Facebook wants you to look and move like you in VR, even if you’ve got a headset strapped to your face in the real world. That’s why it’s building a new technology that uses a photo to map someone’s face into VR, and sensors to detect facial expressions and movements to animate that avatar so it looks like you without an Oculus on your head.

CTO Mike Schroepfer previewed the technology during his day 2 keynote at Facebook’s F8 conference. Eventually, this technology could let you bring your real-world identity into VR so you’re recognizable by friends. That’s critical to VR’s potential to let us eradicate the barriers of distance and spend time in the same “room” with someone on the other side of the world. These social VR experiences will fall flat without emotion that’s obscured by headsets or left out of static avatars. But if Facebook can port your facial expressions alongside your mug, VR could elicit similar emotions to being with someone in person.

Facebook has been making steady progress on the avatar front over the years. What began as a generic blue face eventually got personalized features, skin tones and life-like features, and became a polished and evocative digital representation of a real person. Still, they’re not quite photo-realistic.

Facebook is inching closer, though, by using hand-labeled characteristics on portraits of people’s faces to train its artificial intelligence how to turn a photo into an accurate avatar.

Meanwhile, Facebook has tried to come up with new ways to translate emotion into avatars. Back in late 2016, Facebook showed off its “VR emoji gestures,” which let users shake their fists to turn their avatar’s face mad, or shrug their shoulders to adopt a confused expression.

Still, the biggest problem with Facebook’s avatars is that they’re trapped in its worlds of Oculus and social VR. In October, I called on Facebook to build a competitor to Snapchat’s wildly popular Bitmoji avatars, and we’re still waiting.

VR headsets haven’t seen the explosive user adoption some expected, in large part because they lack enough compelling experiences inside. There are zombie shooters and puzzle rooms and shipwrecks to explore, but most tire of them quickly. Games and media lose their novelty in a way social networking doesn’t. Imagine what you were playing or watching 14 years ago, yet we’re still using Facebook.

That’s why the company needs to nail emotion within VR. It’s the key to making the medium impactful and addictive.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Everything Facebook launched at F8 and Why

Everything Facebook launched at F8 and Why

Day 1 of Facebook’s F8 conference was packed with announcements and updates. Here are 10 big takeaways from Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote on Day 1. You can find full coverage and analysis of F8 here. 

1. FaceDate

Facebook is launching a dating feature where you can volunteer to make a profile that’s only visible to non-friends who’ve also opted in to looking for love. Facebook will match you based on all its data, and messaging will happen in a dedicated inbox rather than Messenger.

Why: If Facebook wants to drive “meaningful connections,” it doesn’t get more meaningful than introducing you to your life partner. Facebook will have to be careful to keep everything private, as people already think it’s creepy or uncool. But investors love it, considering Tinder parent company Match Group’s share price fell 22 percent today.

2. “Clear History”

Facebook is building Clear History, a new privacy feature allowing users to delete data Facebook has collected from sites and apps that use its ads and analytics tool. This means you can scrub some of your browsing history from Facebook’s data store. Mark Zuckerberg likened this to deleting cookies from your browser history. It’s a nice gesture to the privacy-conscious, though it’ll make your Facebook experience less personalized.

Why: Zuckerberg faced tons of questions from Congress about data it collects from around the web. Users were pissed to learn they had little control over it. Clear History could quiet some cries for regulation.

3. Instagram video chat and anti-bullying

Instagram is launching video chat, which TechCrunch scooped in March when we spotted the feature buried in its Android app. Meanwhile, Instagram is also getting a new filter to protect users from bullying comments, plus an improved Explore tab.

Why: Instagram Direct messaging is super popular, but lacked video chat… which is also super popular on Messenger and WhatsApp. Combined with anti-bullying features, Instagram could become a safer and sillier place for teens to hang out — which is just what Facebook wants to defeat Snapchat.

4. Facebook is reopening its app review process

Facebook will re-open its app review process following the pause it took after the Cambridge Analytica crisis — welcome news for developers.

Why: Facebook couldn’t risk another sketchy app slipping through and selling user data, but it also has to keep developers loyal to its platform so they keep building experiences that attract users. Facebook was wise to balance safety and privacy with new developer capabilities today.

5. Oculus Go goes on sale for $199

Oculus Go, Facebook’s cheap and capable standalone VR headset, is now on sale. It costs $199 for the version with 32GB of onboard storage, and $249 for the 64GB variety.

Why: VR headsets where you have to stick your phone in are clumsy and prevent Facebook from controlling the whole experience. Instead of relying on the Samsung Gear headset shell and your iPhone or Android, Facebook gets to dictate everything about the perfect VR rig you can strap on first-timers.

6. Messenger simplifies and starts translation 

Facebook is tiptoeing into translation of chat threads in Messenger, starting with English-Spanish convos in the U.S. within Marketplace. Meanwhile, Facebook is stripping out the camera and games tab to give Messenger a cleaner design.

Why: Translation could deliver on the Facebook promise of bringing the world closer together by eradicating language barriers and letting people realize how much they have in common. But Messenger was getting way too bloated with so many new features, so the simplification should let the actually useful ones shine.

7. Introducing VR Memories and 3D photos 

Facebook is bringing 3D illustrations and models to the News Feed. It’s also going to turn 2D photos into VR memories — 3D environments you can explore using a trippy point cloud design.

Why: Facebook wants to stay ahead of the content trends and be the home of future formats. They might seem like a novelty today, but at least they keep Facebook interesting.

8. WhatsApp hits 450 million stories users 

WhatsApp’s Snapchat Stories clone WhatsApp Status now has 450 million daily active users. That’s well over 2X the user count of Snapchat’s whole app. And WhatsApp is also adding stickers and group video calling.

Why: This is a big deal because Snapchat had a disastrous earnings call today where it sank to its slowest user growth rate ever, while WhatsApp Status continues its explosive growth. Snapchat neglected the international market at first, and now WhatsApp has beaten it to the punch worldwide.

9. Sharing to Facebook and Instagram Stories from other apps

Starting with Spotify, SoundCloud and GoPro, other apps can share photos and videos directly to Stories inside Facebook and Instagram.

Why: Facebook wants to make its Stories more interesting than Snapchat’s. And this new wing of the platform could create a massive opportunity for music discovery, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Myspace.

10. Oculus TV

Oculus wants you to watch TV inside its new Go headset. At first you’ll get Facebook Watch, but expect apps like Netflix and Hulu to arrive eventually.

Why: There just aren’t enough great VR experiences, but perhaps Facebook can get people spending more time in their headsets by creating a virtual big screen for 2D content.

For more of TechCrunch’s F8 coverage, check out all our stories:

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

WhatsApp’s stories hit 450M users, stealing the globe from Snapchat

WhatsApp’s stories hit 450M users, stealing the globe from Snapchat

Snapchat neglected the international market in its early years, and now WhatsApp has snatched that growth opportunity. WhatsApp’s clone of Snapchat Stories, WhatsApp Status, now has 450 million daily active users. That’s compared to just 191 million daily users on all of Snapchat as of today’s disastrous Q1 Snap Inc earnings call. Theupdate from today’s F8 conference comes after Facebook said WhatsApp Status and Instagram Stories had 300 million daily users as of November.

WhatsApp is getting stickers

Group video calling is coming to WhatsApp

Rather than rest on its laurels, WhatsApp just announced stickers and Group Video calling to make the lean communications utility more fun. Users already spend 2 billion minutes per day on WhatsApp video and audio calls. But in the coming months, they’ll be able to have at least four people on a single split-screen video call, and possibly more. And rather than just chat with text, in the coming months you’ll be able to send stickers inside WhatsApp. Third-party sticker packs will also be available, so developers can contribute illustrations to help people chat visually.

Meanwhile, on the serious side, WhatsApp is inching toward monetization. It now has 3 million companies on its new WhatsApp For Business app. While it’s a free product currently, WhatsApp has said it plans to charge big brands like airlines, banks and mobile carriers for bonus features that will help them do commerce and customer support on the app. With strong traction already, it seems like Facebook will be able to squeeze a solid new revenue stream out of Facebook when it’s ready.

With all the talk of election interference on Facebook and Instagram, WhatsApp was the company’s feel-good story for today’s F8 conference. The division’s director Mubarik Imam said that if she could work for any company for free, she would have picked WhatsApp. Facebook needs as much positive PR as it can get right now amidst all its scandals, and WhatsApp might be its ticket.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook and Instagram Stories open to sharing from other apps

Facebook and Instagram Stories open to sharing from other apps

Facebook is recruiting help to make its Stories more interesting than Snapchat’s. Starting with Spotify, SoundCloud and GoPro, third-party apps can now let their users share to Facebook Stories and Instagram Stories. Rather than screenshotting, users will be able to hit a button to share a photo or video of a playlist, song or mini-movie from another app into Facebook or Instagram’s Stories camera, where they can embellish it with effects and post it to their friends. GoPro’s integration actually lets you edit your movies inside Facebook’s apps, while you can immediately start listening to songs shared from Spotify and SoundCloud.

Facebook’s CPO Chris Cox announced the feature at Facebook’s F8 conference, saying that he’s excited to see what developers build. Other launch partners include selfie editor Meitu, lipsyncing app Musically, Indian streaming music service Saavn and more.

While this new wing of the Facebook platform is opening to all developers, only approved partners that go through a review process like the three mentioned will have attribution watermarks added to the shares.

This platform move mirrors what Facebook did with its Open Graph launch 7 years ago at F8 2011. That let developers push stories about in-app activity to Facebook’s Ticker and News Feed. Eventually Facebook dropped the Ticker and phased out these Open Graph auto-shares in favor of explicit sharing, where the user is in full control. Facebook is taking this more cautious approach with Stories too, rather than make users worry their guilty pleasure listening or private imagery could be unknowingly shared to their Story.

The plan deviates significantly from Snapchat’s strategy, which has shunned third-party developers like music video-maker Mindie in the past. Now Snapchat lets developers create augmented reality lenses and geofilters that users can unlock, but the content creation happens in Snapchat’s app. Facebook hopes that by recruiting developers and getting them to build special content users can share to their Stories, it will avoid the feature growing stale from the same old selfies and sunsets.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch