Bitmoji

Snapchat will let you play as your Bitmoji in video games

Posted by | Apps, Avatars, Bitmoji, Developer, Gaming, Mobile, snap inc, Snap Kit, Snapchat, Social, TC, video games | No Comments

Want your video game character to look just like you? Soon you’ll be able to scan an in-game code with Snapchat to play as your personalized Bitmoji avatar on PC, console and mobile games. Today Snapchat announced its new Bitmoji for Games SDK that will let hand-selected partners integrate 3D Bitmoji as a replacement for their character skins. With support for Unity, Unreal and the Play Canvas engine behind Snap’s new Bitmoji Party game inside Snapchat, the SDK should make it easy for developers to pipe in life-like avatars that give people a stronger emotional connection to the game.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer to bring Bitmoji into games. Games can be so much more engaging with you…in the game,” Bitmoji co-founder Ba Blackstock tells me. “We’re adding an identity layer to gaming that has the potential to have a transformational effect on the industry.”

Snapchat has a massive opportunity to colonize the web — and the games ecosystem — with its Bitmoji instead of waiting for developers to make half-assed clones. Bitmoji is perhaps Snapchat’s most popular and enduring feature now that Stories and ephemeral messaging have been widely copied, with 330 million estimated downloads, according to Sensor Tower. As I wrote in my feature piece on Snapchat’s new platform strategy, “To stop copycats, Snapchat shares itself,” every distributed instance of the company drives attention back to its original apps, and each partnership it establishes is one more ally in the fight against Facebook.

Snap’s new CMO

Snap’s new CMO Kenny Mitchell

As Snapchat moves into this new era of marketing itself through Bitmoji, today it also announced it has hired a new CMO, Kenny Mitchell. He was formerly the VP of marketing at McDonald’s and the head of consumer engagement at Gatorade. Mitchell oversaw the sports drink’s Serena Williams tennis game that lived inside a Snapchat ad and saw an average of over 200 seconds of play time, and its viral Super Bowl augmented reality lens that let you dump a cooler of Gatorade on yourself.

“Kenny’s consumer marketing expertise and his deep understanding of our products will be a great combination for Snap,” writes Snap CEO Evan Spiegel.

The company has seen many senior execs depart over the years due to clashes with Spiegel over leadership, so we’ll see if Mitchell sticks around. He’ll be spearheading Snap’s new marketing campaign to reactivate Android users frustrated by its buggy app and bring them back to its newly reengineered version. “I look forward to helping Evan and Snap continue to tell their story to people around the world, and working with my new colleagues as we define the future of the camera and self-expression,” Mitchell writes.

Bitmoji, the visual identity layer

Snap acquired Bitmoji parent Bitstrips in 2016 for just $64 million, propelling it to become a staple top 10 app. Snap launched its Snap Kit platform in June 2018, allowing developers to integrate Bitmoji into the keyboards of their apps like Tinder for use as chat stickers or 2D profile pics. And this month, at Snap’s first Partner Summit, it launched partnerships to bring Bitmoji to the Venmo feed, Fitbit watch faces and more. But now it will let 3D Bitmoji replace your in-game character head-to-toe.

For now, the SDK will be free to top developers chosen for the program from PC, Mac, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android and other platforms. Surprisingly, most game devs just build their own avatar customization feature from scratch, but they’re typically focused on clothes and crazy hairstyles rather than fine-tuning a face that looks like your own. And while customized avatars are common in shooter games, Bitmoji could bring them to platform, racing, dancing, puzzle, fighting and role-playing games too.

Bitmoji for games won’t be an open platform, to ensure the brand isn’t misused. Blackstock explains that “You can look at what we’re doing with Bitmoji Kit where we have guidelines of best practices of how to use Bitmoji and not use Bitmoji. We’ll apply the same kinds of guidelines to gaming.” That might mean no extra graphically violent games, or anything in which players might revel in inflicting pain on a personalized avatar. But Fortnite, with its cartoony violence, might be an ideal Bitmoji partner.

Snap’s global head of gaming partnerships, John Imah, says he could imagine using his Bitmoji in titles from Star Wars, Lego, Mario Kart or Warcraft. Depending on how their models for characters, landscapes and items work, developers may have to do some work to make Bitmoji work gracefully. But Imah says when it can, “There will be some modification on our end to make sure this works within their engine so we can make this process as seamless as possible for these developers.”

Users will design their avatar in the Bitmoji or Snapchat app, though there may be in-game customization options down the line. If users ask to import their Bitmoji, the game will show a QR Snapcode on screen that users can scan with the Snapchat camera. That authentication unlocks their Bitmoji to use as an avatar skin in the game. Suddenly, every quest, battle and cutscene becomes about them, not some generic character.

Given Fortnite is earning hundreds of millions of dollars selling cosmetic upgrades, the inevitable question is whether Snap will start selling bonus outfits, items or face options for Bitmoji. “It’s really early days for Bitmoji for Games. It’s something we’ll explore later down the road,” Imah tells me. Imagine if kids could buy Supreme sweatshirts or fresh Nikes for their Bitmoji? That could be a lucrative new business for Snap that’s strengthened by each Bitmoji partnership, and at a time when it’s eager to boost revenue and cut losses as it aims for profitability.

Bitmoji for Games could cement Snapchat as the best way to visually represent yourself online without a photograph. As the darker sides of the internet and human nature come into focus for the tech industry, we need more ways to be ourselves while retaining privacy. Bitmoji could deliver the emotional connection of seeing yourself as the hero without the risks of exposing your true face.

Powered by WPeMatico

To stop copycats, Snapchat shares itself

Posted by | ad networks, Advertising Tech, Apps, Bitmoji, bobby murphy, Evan Spiegel, Mobile, snap inc, Snap Kit, Snapchat, Snapchat Audience Network, Social, TC | No Comments

Evan Spiegel has finally found a way to fight back against Mark Zuckerberg’s army of clones. For 2.5 years, Snapchat foolishly tried to take the high road versus Facebook, with Spiegel claiming “Our values are hard to copy”. That inaction allowed Zuckerberg to accrue over 1 billion daily Stories users across Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook compared to Snapchat’s 186 million total daily users. Meanwhile, the whole tech industry scrambled to build knock-offs of Snap’s vision of an ephemeral, visual future.

But Snapchat’s new strategy is a rallying call for the rest of the social web that’s scared of being squashed beneath Facebook’s boot. It rearranges the adage of “if you can’t beat them, join them” into “to beat them, join us”. As a unified front, Snap’s partners get the infrastructure they need to focus on what differentiates them, while Snapchat gains the reach and entrenchment necessary to weather the war.

Tinder lets you use Snapchat Stories as profile photos

Snapchat’s plan is to let other apps embed the best parts of it rather than building their own half-rate copies.

Why reinvent the wheel of Stories, Bitmoji, and ads when you can reuse the original? A high-ranking Snap executive told me on background that this is indeed the strategy. If it’s going to invent these products, and others want something similar, it’s smarter to enable and partly control the Snapchatification than to try to ignore it. Otherwise, Facebook might be the one to platform-tize what Snap inspired everyone to want.

The “Camera company” corrected course and took back control of its destiny this week at its first ever Snap Partner Summit in its hometown of Los Angeles. Now it’s a camera platform thanks to Snap Kit. Its new Story Kit will implant Snapchat Stories into other apps later this year. They can display a more traditional carousel of your friends’ Stories, or lace them into their app in a custom format. Houseparty’s Stories carousel shares what your buddies are up to outside of the group video chat app. Tinder will let you show off your Snapchat Story alongside your photos to seduce potential matches. But the camera stays inside Snapchat, with new options to share out to these App Stories.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel presents at the Snap Partner Summit

This is how Snapchat colonizes the native app ecosystem similarly to how Facebook invaded the web with the Like button. Snap’s strong privacy record makes these partners willing to host it where now they might fear that Facebook and its history with Cambridge Analytica could tarnish their brand.

Instead of watching these other apps spin up mini competitors that further fragment the Stories world, Snap saves developers the slow and costly hassle while instantly giving them best-in-class tools to boost their own engagement. Each outpost makes your Snapchat account a little more indispensable, grants its camera new utility, and reminds you to visit again. It’s another reason to stick with Snap rather than straying to other versions of Stories.

If Spiegel knows what’s up, he’ll douse the Story Kit partnerships team with resources so they can sign up as many apps as possible before Facebook can copy this idea too. For now, Snap isn’t injecting ads into App Stories, but it could easily do so and split the cash with its host. This would attract partners, generate revenue, and give Snap’s advertisers more reach.

Houseparty embeds Snapchat Stories

Either way, Snap will score those benefits with its new Ad Kit. Later this year the Snapchat Audience Network will launch allowing partners to host Snap’s full-screen vertical video ads and earn an as-yet-undisclosed revenue share. They won’t have to build up an ad sales force or build an auction and delivery system, but just drop in an SDK to start displaying ads to both Snapchat users and non-users. The company’s message again is that it’s becoming easier to cooperate with Snapchat than copy it.

Snap’s new ad network

Giving its advertisers more reach and reusability for Snap’s somewhat proprietary ad unit format helps Snap address its core challenge: scale. Snap’s 186 million total users can look small in comparison to Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube, especially since that count sank in Q2 and Q3 before stabilzing in Q4 of last year. That makes it tougher for advertisers to justify the chore of spending on Snapchat. Ad Kit and potentially Story Kit give Snap more reach even without user growth.

Added size could tip the cards in Snap’s favor given it’s already popular with an extremely important demographic. Snapchat now reaches 75 percent of 13 to 34-year olds in the US, and 90 percent of 13 to 24-year olds there. It claims to now reach more of that younger age group than Facebook in the most lucrative countries: the US, Canada, UK, France, and Australia.

Facebook has massively neglected this segment. Case in point: Facebook Messenger’s Stickers feature that’s popular with kids has hardly improved since its launch in 2013, which I hear was a fight to get approved internally. Meanwhile, Snapchat keeps growing its lead on virtual identity with Bitmoji. Now Snap will let you put your personalized Bitmoji avatar on your FitBit smart watch face, use them to joke about Venmo purchases, and even represent yourself with one in Snap’s new multiplayer games platform.

Again, Snap wants partners to integrate the real thing rather than try to build some half-assed facsimile of Bitmoji. Surprisingly, Facebook’s Avatars have been mired in development for over a year and Apple’s Memoji can’t escape iMessage and FaceTime yet. That’s why Snapchat would be wise to double-down on trying to make Bitmoji the ubiquitous way to represent yourself without a photograph. Facebook’s lack of design cool and Bitmoji’s massive headstart with this differentiated product is a powerful way for Snap to wedge itself into partnerships.

Snap needs all the help it can get if the underdog is going to carve out a substantial and sustainable piece of social networking. Teaming up was the theme of the rest of the Snap Partner Summit. It’s built ways for Netflix, GoFundMe, VSCO, and Anchor to share stickers and for publishers like the Washington Post to share articles back to Snapchat. It’s got Zynga and ZeptoLab building real-time multiplayer Snap Games that live inside chat and are a clever way of slipping ads into messaging.

Snapchat’s new Scan augmented reality utility platform has signed up Giphy and Photomath as well as former partners Shazam and Amazon to let you squeeze extra interactivity out of your surroundings. And since the physical world is too vast for any one developer to fill with AR experiences, Snap beefed up its Lens Studio platform with new templates and creator profiles so developers add to its warchest of 400,000 special effects. Facebook may be able to clone Snap’s features, but not its developer army.

“If we can show the right Lens in the right moment, we can inspire a whole new world of creativity” says Snap co-founder Bobby Murphy . From partnerships to utilities to toys, all the new announcements drive attention back to Snapchat’s camera. That makes it ripe to become the augmented reality brower of the world.

It all feels like a coming of age moment for Snapchat, punctuated by the glitzy press event where media bigwigs gnoshed on Chinese steak buns and played with AR art installations in West Hollywood.

Spiegel has discovered a method of capitalizing on his penchant for inspiring mobile product design. With this strategy in place and Snap’s reengineered Android app and new languages rolling out now, I believe Snapchat will grow again, at least in terms of deeper engagement if not also total user count. Perhaps it will need a little bit more funding to get it over the hurdle, but I expect it will reach profitability before the end of 2020. 

During a pre-event press briefing with a dozen Snap executives including Spiegel and Murphy (that was on ‘background’ so we can’t quote or specify who said what), one Snap higher-up joked that Facebook has been copying it for seven years so it’s started to feel normal. Zuckerberg recently declared he wanted to reorient Facebook around privacy, ephemerality, and messaging — the core tenets of Snapchat. But a Snap leader used some colorful language to describe how they don’t care what Facebook says its philosophy is until it fixes the 2 billion-user product that keeps doing harm.

Subtly throwing shade from the stage, Spiegel concluded that “Our camera lets the natural light from our world penetrate the darkness of the Internet . . . as we use the Internet more and more in our daily lives, we need a way to make it a bit more human.” That apparently means making other apps a bit more Snapchat.

Powered by WPeMatico

Snap is channeling Asia’s messaging giants with its move into gaming

Posted by | alibaba, Apps, Asia, Australia, Bitmoji, Canada, China, computing, e-commerce, epic games, Evan Spiegel, Facebook, food, France, game developers, Gaming, instagram, Instant Messaging, Japan, josh constine, Kakao, Los Angeles, messaging apps, Messenger, nhn japan, Nintendo, operating systems, player, Snap, Snapchat, Social, social media, social network, Software, Southeast Asia, Startups, Tencent, United Kingdom, United States, WeChat, WhatsApp | No Comments

Snap is taking a leaf out of the Asian messaging app playbook as its social messaging service enters a new era.

The company unveiled a series of new strategies that are aimed at breathing fresh life into the service that has been ruthlessly cloned by Facebook across Instagram, WhatsApp and even its primary social network. The result? Snap has consistently lost users since going public in 2017. It managed to stop the rot with a flat Q4, but resting on its laurels isn’t going to bring back the good times.

Snap has taken a three-pronged approach: extending its stories feature (and ads) into third-party apps and building out its camera play with an AR platform, but it is the launch of social games that is the most intriguing. The other moves are logical, and they fall in line with existing Snap strategies, but games is an entirely new category for the company.

It isn’t hard to see where Snap found inspiration for social games — Asian messaging companies have long twinned games and chat — but the U.S. company is applying its own twist to the genre.

Powered by WPeMatico

Snapchat launches Mario Party-style multiplayer games platform

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, Bitmoji, Gaming, html5, Mobile, snap inc, Snapchat, Snapchat Games, Social, TC, ZeptoLab, Zynga | No Comments

Snap is unlocking a new revenue stream while giving you something to do between chats and Stories. Today Snapchat debuts its Snap Games platform that lets you play real-time, multiplayer games while texting and talking with your friends. The platform is based on Snap’s secret late-2017 acquisition of PrettyGreat, an Australian game studio with talent from HalfBrick (which built Fruit Ninja). That team built Bitmoji Party, a Mario Party-style mini-game fest, to show off the platform that includes five games from developers like Zynga and ZeptoLab. The games are rolling out worldwide on iOS and Android starting today.

To monetize the platform, Snapchat will let users opt in to watching six-second unskippable commercials that reward them with a power up or bonus in-game currency. Snapchat will share revenue from the ads with developers, though it refused to specify the split. It could be a little weird watching ads to more easily beat your friends. But down the line it’s easy to imagine Snapchat selling cosmetic upgrades via in-app purchases akin to Fortnite.

Snap announced the new Snap Games platform at its first-ever press event, the Snap Partner Summit in Los Angeles, where it also announced an augmented reality utility platform called Scan, an ads network and a way to put its Stories in other apps. “We wanted to build something that makes us feel like we’re playing a board game with a family of over a long holiday weekend. Something that makes us feel like we’re sitting with friends, controllers in hand, looking at the same screen,” says Snap’s head of gaming, Will Wu. The Information’s Tom Dotan and Amir Efrati first reported Snap was building a gaming platform and Cheddar’s Alex Heath reported it would end up launching today.

Snap Games could be considered a real-time spin on Facebook Messenger’s Instant Games platform, which has focused on porting to HTML5 well-known asynchronous games like Pac-Man and other arcade titles. Similarly, Snap Games don’t have to be downloaded separately, as they’re piped in from the web. Users can browse available games by tapping a new rocket ship button in the chat bar.

You’re invited to Bitmoji Party 🎉#SnapPartnerSummit pic.twitter.com/WBTntkqZil

— Snapchat (@Snapchat) April 4, 2019

With Bitmoji Party, your avatar competes with up to seven friends simultaneously in a series of mini games where you have to stay balanced on a giant record as a DJ scratches it, or avoid getting knocked in the pool. You also can have another 24 friends spectate and rotate in. Winners earn coins they can use to buy dances to stunt on their competition. And with an ever-present chat bar, users can use text or voice to talk trash.

Rather than port in known IP, Snap recruited developers to build games exclusively for its vertical, real-time multiplayer format. These include:

  • Alphabear Hustle from SpryFox – a fast-paced word puzzler
  • C.A.T.S. (Crash Arena Turbo Stars) Drift Race from ZeptoLab – a cutesy racing game
  • Snake Squad from Game Closure – a reimagining of the classic Snake game set in outer space
  • Tiny Royale from Zynga – a top-down battle royale shooter game that feels like a Game Boy version of Fortnite  top-down battle royale game
  • Zombie Rescue Squad from PikPok – a zombie shooter

Snapchat’s partner games (from left): Tiny Royale, Snake Squad, C.A.T.S. Drift Race

Snap’s game platform has huge potential to boost time spent in the app and the ads views that generates because gaming is perfect for its demographic. “In the United States, Snapchat now reaches nearly 75 percent of all 13 to 34-year-olds, and we reach 90 percent of 13 to 24-year-olds. In fact, we reach more 13 to 24-year-olds than Facebook or Instagram in the United States, the U.K., France, Canada and Australia,” Snap CEO Evan Spiegel revealed today. This is the age group with the free time and dense social graphs to make use of multiplayer real-time games.

The big question is whether Snap’s reward-incentivized video ad views will generate enough cash to keep developers coming to the platform. If not, a limited line of titles could get old quick. Snap has entirely avoided in-app purchases since shutting down its Lens Store in early 2016. There’s understandable concern that kids could rack up huge bills on their parents’ credit cards. But given how Fortnite has normalized paying for no-utility cosmetic upgrades for this same demographic, with the right controls Snapchat could do the same to make itself and its partners a lot more money. And given you’re always playing with your friends, not strangers, there’s an even deeper urge to buy funny costumes and dances to impress them.

Snapchat’s overarching strategy right now is to build an orbit of time-wasters surrounding chat. What began with Stories now includes Discover publications, premium Shows, augmented reality toys and now games. It may never become a favorite with the 35+ age group. But since messaging is the top mobile behavior, Snap can use it to keep people coming back and then distract them while they’re waiting for a reply or need a social alternative to small talk.

 

Powered by WPeMatico

Genies brings lifelike avatars to other apps with $10M from celebrities

Posted by | Apps, augmented reality, Avatars, Bitmoji, Facebook Avatars, gboard, Genies, Mobile, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, TC | No Comments

Genies is emerging as the top competitor to Snapchat’s wildly popular Bitmoji as Facebook, Apple and Google have been slow to get serious about personalized avatars. More than one million people have customized dozens of traits to build a realistic digital lookalike of themselves from over a million possible permutations.

When Genies launched a year ago after raising $15 million in stealth, it misstepped by trying to show people’s Genies interpreting a few weekly news stories and seasonal moments. Now the startup has figured out users want more control, so it’s shifting its iOS and Android apps to let you chat through your avatar, which acts out keywords and sentiments in reaction to what you type, which you can then share elsewhere. And Genies is launching a software developer kit that charges other apps to let you create avatars and use them for chat, stickers, games, animations and augmented reality.

Genies’ SDK puts its avatars in other apps

To power these new strategies and usher in what CEO Akash Nigam calls “the next wave of communication through avatars where people feel comfortable expressing themselves,” Genies has raised $10 million more. The party round comes from a wide range of investors, from institutional firms like NEA and Tull Co. to angels like Tinder’s Sean Rad, Raya’s Jared Morgenstern and speaker Tony Robbins; athletes like Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving and Richard Sherman; and musicians, including A$AP Rocky, Offset from Migos, The Chainsmokers and 50 Cent. Some like Offset have even used their Genie to stand in for them for brand sponsorships, so their avatar poses for photos instead of them.

“We’ve transitioned from being an app to an avatar services company,” Nigam tells me. The son of WebMD’s co-founder, Nigam build a string of failed apps while at University of Michigan and worked with Genies co-founders Evan Rosenbaum and Matt Geiger on a startup called Blend that raised some money. Watching Snapchat-owned Bitmoji stay glued atop the app download charts inspired them to see more opportunity in the avatar space. Genies has had some talent issues, though. Nigam says it fired co-founder and president Matt Geiger, and a source tells me there were company culture issues that led to issues with the content writers it hired to create scenes for Genies to act out. Now it’s getting out of that scripted content creation business to focus on algorithmic suggestions of animations.

Genies in-app chat

The revamped Genies app lets you chat with up to six friends through your avatar. As you type, Genies detects actions, places, things and emotions, and offers you corresponding animations your avatar acts out with a tap. Given people already have plenty of place to chat, it might be tough to get people to move real conversations inside Genies for more than a quick hit of novelty. But that functionality is also coming to Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and iMessage’s keyboards, where the expressive animations could naturally augment your threads.

Gucci paid to let Genies users add its luxury clothes to their avatars

With the Genies SDK, the startup is ready to challenge Snapchat’s new Snap Kit that lets apps build Bitmoji into their keyboards. But for $100,000 to $1 million in licensing fees, Genies allows apps to develop much deeper avatar features. Beyond creating keyboard stickers, games can plaster your Genies’ face over your character’s head, and utilities apps can have your Genie act out the weather or celebrate transactions. And since Genies is still taking off, partners can create experiences that feel fresh rather than just a repurposing of Bitmoji’s already-established cartoony avatars. Users spent an average of 19 minutes creating their Genie, so the SDK could add significant engagement to these apps. Genies has also launched its first official brand deal, where Gucci has created a wheel in the Genies creator so you can deck out your mini-you with luxury clothing.

The Avatar Wars (from left): Facebook Avatars, Google Gboard Mini Stickers, Apple Memoji

Despite Bitmoji’s years of success, it’s yet to have a scaled competitor. TechCrunch broke the news that Facebook is working on a “Facebook Avatars” feature, but seven months later it’s still not publicly testing and the prototype looks childish. Google’s Gboard just added the ability to create avatars based on a selfie, but they’re bland, low on detail and far from fun looking. And Apple’s latest mobile operating system lets you create a Memoji, though they too look generic like actual emoji rather than something instantly identifiable as you. By designing avatars that not only look like you but like a cooler version of you, Genies could capture the hearts and faces of millions of teens and the influencers they follow.

Powered by WPeMatico

Snapchat launches Bitmoji merch and comic strips starring your avatar

Posted by | Apps, Bitmoji, bitstrips, eCommerce, Genies, Mobile, snap inc, Snap Store, Snapchat, Social, TC | No Comments

Snapchat is doubling down on its biggest differentiator by turning its personalized avatar Bitmoji into a revenue stream and a new source of content. Snapchat is launching a Bitmoji merchandise store you can customize with you and your friends’ cartoonified faces, Bitmoji Stories comic strips featuring you and friends’ avatars in fun scenes and a new Friendship profile that collects all the content you and a friend have saved from your Snap message thread.

The new features could help earn Snapchat money to reduce its still-massive quarterly losses, get Snap’s brand out in public and give people new ways to spend more time on Snapchat when it’s otherwise been losing users.

Snapchat, the e-commerce company

The Bitmoji merchandise store opens Thursday in the U.S. on iOS only with $2 stickers, $15 coffee mugs, $16 standard t-shirts and notebooks, $22 triblend t-shirts, $27 sweatshirts and more that users can personalize by adding their Bitmoji, one of their friends’, them and a friends’ playing together, or any two of their friends. Phone cases, towels and pillows are also available. You can access the Bitmoji store from Snap Store in the Settings menu of Snapchat’s app. Snapchat first launched its Snap Store in Ghostface Chillah logo merchandise back in February to sell Dancing Hot Dog dolls, ghost pool floats and puppy selfie-filter shirts.

The new merch could help Snap show off its name and brand, reminding people to use the app as they can’t get the true Bitmoji anywhere else. Snap could also use the revenue given that it lost $325 million last quarter and might have to take outside investment or be acquired as it may not break even before running out of cash.

Snap comics

Back before it settled on the idea of turning personalized emoji into stickers you could use in chat, Bitmoji parent company Bitstrips started as a comic strip creator. You could make an avatar and then create little scenes for them to star in. The idea was inspired by co-founder Jacob “BA” Blackstock’s school days when he and friends would draw comic strips when they were bored. Now Snap is getting back to Bitmoji’s roots.

Bitmoji Stories launch tomorrow in the U.S. A Snapchat spokesperson tells me “Bitmoji Stories will tell lighthearted stories in the form of short comic strips. Bitmoji Stories are created by Snap (from the Bitmoji content team), and will star the Snapchatter solo or with a friend.” They’ll be constantly updated with new adventures, and they’re quite reminiscent of lifelike avatar startup Genies’ scenes. By creating a new form of Discover content in-house, Snapchat could draw more time and therefore more ad views out of its audience. And because there’s no outside publisher to pay, Snapchat can keep all the ad revenue.Snap’s big competitors have largely failed to field a viable Bitmoji competitor. A year ago I wrote that “Facebook seriously needs its own Bitmoji,” and in May, we broke the news that Facebook Avatars were in the works — though the prototypes were pretty ugly. Each day Facebook delays, Bitmoji becomes more entrenched as the avatar standard. Two weeks ago, Google launched its own Gboard Mini avatars that you can automatically create with a selfie, rather than having to configure them manually like on Snapchat. But when it comes to an illustrated version of you, even tiny missteps can make you look monstrous. Plus, people love wasting time customizing avatars. Snap’s version still reigns supreme.

Besties are Snap’s best shot

And lastly, today Snapchat begins globally rolling out its Friendship profiles. Accessible by clicking on a friend’s Bitmoji (or blank avatar if they haven’t made one) from Chat, Stories, Discover or search, Snapchat says they “make it easy to find your favorite memories and the important information you’ve saved over time.” That includes, photos, videos, messages, and links saved from your otherwise ephemeral chats, plus a quick way to see that bestie on the Snap Map.

None of these features is so seismic as to change the overall momentum of Snapchat, which has been struggling lately with shrinking user counts, a battered share price and non-stop executive departures. Its VP of Content Nick Bell left yesterday. Having talked with him, he’s one of the smartest minds in modern mobile content, and Snap’s hopes to get rid of the clickbait and messy design of Discover may be more difficult without him.

The strategy of focusing on best friends is smart, though. The one thing Facebook and Instagram can’t copy is Snapchat’s tight social graph of just your closest pals. Those competitors allowed their networks to bloat with acquaintances, family and colleagues that can make people less comfortable openly sharing. Now that they’ve copied Snapchat’s Stories broadcasting to a wider audience, Snap must refocus on best friends if it wants to stay unique and turn its smaller size and graph into an asset instead of a liability.

Powered by WPeMatico

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

Posted by | Apps, Bitmoji, Developer, Mobile, snap inc, Snapchat, Social, Startups, TC | No Comments

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:

Powered by WPeMatico

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

Posted by | Apps, Avatars, Bitmoji, Facebook, Mobile, Snapchat Clone, Social, TC | No Comments

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:

Powered by WPeMatico

Snapchat enhances Bitmoji with 1.9 septillion avatar options

Posted by | Apps, Avatars, Bitmoji, Mobile, snap inc, Snapchat, Social, TC | No Comments

 Now you can customize your Snapchat Bitmoji avatar with 40 skin tones, 50 hair colors, 50 hair treatment options and more so it looks just like you no matter what you look like. Today Snapchat launches Bitmoji Deluxe, a more configurable version of its cartoony avatars that embraces the growing diversity of its users. The feature offers an easier front-end builder that instantly previews… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

Facebook seriously needs its own Bitmoji

Posted by | Apps, Avatars, Bitmoji, Facebook, facebook spaces, Mobile, Oculus, Opinion, Snapchat, Snapchat Clone, Social, TC | No Comments

 Your Facebook profile used to be the online version of “you”. But over the past year, Bitmoji has usurped Facebook to become the preferred way to share your identity over the web. The Facebook profile assembles a collection of text and real-world photos into a fixed set of poses, making it more of a snapshot of the offline you ported into the digital realm rather than a vision of… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico