Snap Inc. (NYSE:SNAP), the company behind Snapchat, just launched a major update that brings its highly anticipated “World Lenses” feature to the masses. The technology is similar to the augmented reality (AR) used with Nintendo’s Pokemon Go game for mobile devices. World Lenses take this a step further by letting the user access AR objects they can interact with behind the camera and that anyone in the frame can also interact with.
The feature was designed to be easy to use, letting people launch the app and immediately start playing around with the new objects. Using the feature doesn’t require any additional hardware or special cameras. Placing an object works similarly to using some of the selfie filters that already exist in Snapchat. Once the digital 3D objects are placed, you can walk around the objects and see their backside.
The new World Lenses feature is accessed from the home screen when the app is opened. When using the rear camera, you can tap anywhere on the screen to bring up the World Lenses list at the base of the app. There won’t be any sponsored third-party World Lenses at launch, but that is likely to change in the future.
The new feature gives users a more social and interactive way to use the app. You can add cute 3D objects like a smiling rainbow or 3D text like “OMG” into your videos and pictures. Some can be picked up and moved if you reach your hand into the camera’s field of view. There’s also a nature filter that lets you throw seeds into the ground that pop up as flowers and a spring-themed filter with two green bushes you can tap to make bunnies pop out.
Snap didn’t harp on the augmented reality part of World Lenses in its announcement, instead choosing to focus on the fact that it is a new Lenses offering. Snapchat’s Lenses have drawn an avid base of users and has helped propel new forms of digital advertising.
Snap went public last month, but the company’s stock has fallen as Facebook and its many brands have copied the features that made its platform unique. Facebook recently introduced a user interface that resembles the camera-first interface pioneered by Snapchat. Facebook, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp all now have a feature that mimics Snapchat Stories. Last week, Instagram said that 200 million people were using its Stories feature each day.
The imitations are at least partly responsible for Snap’s share price dropping from a high of $27 to a low of about $19. Snap reports its first earnings as a public company next month. Investors are looking for evidence that Snap can be more innovative than its competitors. The Facebook clones are very likely to be a concern for shareholders.