Snapchat World Lenses Are the Next Step in Augmented Reality

Snapchat / Snapchat

Since it was founded in 2011, Snapchat has used cutting-edge technology to successfully set itself apart from other photo-sharing services. The app's latest feature, Snapchat World Lenses, integrates colorful, 3D objects into real-world scenes captured on your smartphone.

As The Verge reports, Snapchat World Lenses were introduced on Monday, April 18. This is the latest experiment with augmented reality we’ve seen from the mobile app. As Snapchat says in a statement:

"We launched Lenses over a year ago as a whole new way to express ourselves on Snapchat. Since then, we've become puppies, puked rainbows, face-swapped with our best friends—and begun to explore how Lenses can change the world around us. Today, we’re adding new ways to use Lenses."

Unlike most of the app's high-tech filters, Snapchat World Lenses aren’t designed for faces. They’re meant to be plopped down anywhere in the space being recorded on your phone’s rear-facing camera. That’s where the augmented reality element comes in: The 3D objects behave as if they’re physically in front of you. Move your camera closer and the animation grows bigger; pull it away and the objects shrink, appearing more distant.

The introductory animations, which can be accessed through Snapchat’s lenses deck, include a cartoon rainbow, a crying cloud, sprouting flowers, and a colorful “OMG” written in bubble letters. The feature will be updated with new lenses on a daily basis. You can watch a demonstration of Snapchat World Lenses in the video below.

While the technology may look futuristic, it’s not exactly new. In 2015, Microsoft introduced the HoloLens, an augmented reality visor that allows wearers to view 3D versions of their favorite apps and games (like Minecraft) as part of the physical space around them. But with a $3000 price tag, the headset wasn’t the ideal vehicle for delivering augmented reality to the masses.

That distinction belongs to Pokemon Go. Last summer, the mobile game brought 3D characters into the real world by way of smartphone cameras. Since the world reached peak Pokemon Go mania shortly after its debut, no other 3D augmented reality app has come close to matching its popularity.

Now that Snapchat is embracing similar technology, users shouldn’t be surprised to see other social media sites launching their own versions of the 3D lenses. Facebook has been known to take direct inspiration from features that originated with Snapchat (like filters and stories), and we already know that Facebook has experimented with virtual reality in the past. Download or update Snapchat today to judge the potential impact of World Lenses for yourself.

[h/t The Verge]