Rise of Augmented Reality in Social Networks

Augmented reality is dramatically changing the landscape of social media messaging. While virtual reality requires specialized equipment, augmented reality or AR is far more practical for users. It is changing the way messages are shared by hiding them virtually over a mutually agreed location. Snapchat has specialized in this domain, unlike Facebook, which has many other areas of expertise. In this blog, iRunway discusses innovation and performance of competitors Snapchat and Facebook in AR for social networks. Facebook and Snapchat have both come a long way in the ephemeral messaging domain.

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Snapchat Geofilters is responsible for 90% of the company’s annual revenue generated. The company has recently acquired the patent disclosing the technology used in Geofilters for $7.7 Million. On the other hand, Facebook’s major sources of revenue include self-serve advertising, engagement ads, Facebook’s virtual gift shop and Facebook credits. Facebook’s patent acquisitions have majorly covered technologies including email, web search rankings, web browsers, instant messaging, video conferencing and the likes. Facebook’s acquisition of 650 patents from AOL has been one of the largest intellectual property acquisitions the company has witnessed.

Table Snapchat v Othes

Key AR Features in FB Camera Frames & Snapchat Geofilters

Facebook and Snapchat camera filters

Facebook has witnessed a steady increase in its user base since 2008, crossing the one billion mark in 2012 – eight years after its launch. It broke records by becoming the first social media company to hit the big billion point. As of Q1 2017, Facebook had 1.94 billion active users.

Instagram launched its Stories feature in 2016. In 2015, there were approximately more than 77.6 million active Instagram users in the U.S. This figure is projected to surpass 111 million in 2019. Instagram is most popular with teens and young millennials – this holds true in the U.S. where more than half of Instagram’s user base is between 18 and 29 years old. Globally, 41% of users are 24 years of age or younger. Instagram is the preferred social network of teens in the U.S., beating Twitter and Facebook. The following graph gives information on the number of monthly active Instagram users as of April 2017. The predominantly mobile photo-sharing network had touched 700 million monthly active users, up from 600 million in December 2016.

Fig. 2. Instagram's Monthly Active Users

Fig. 2. Instagram’s Monthly Active Users

WhatsApp introduced several photo and video editing features in October 2016, after which the company has seen tremendous growth the same quarter. The following graph shows the active monthly users for WhatsApp as of January 2017 when WhatsApp surpassed the 1.2 billion user mark, up from 1 billion in February 2016. The application allows support for ephemeral messages shared by users to a target audience, which may be an individual or a group.

Whatapp monthly active users

Fig. 3. WhatsApp’s Monthly Active Users

Mobile messenger apps are on the rise, with optimistic projections for this market in the coming years. The number of mobile phone messaging apps users is forecast to nearly double between 2014 and 2019. A total of 2.19 billion people are projected to use mobile phone messaging apps by that year.

The following graph presents the number of monthly active Facebook Messenger chat app users from April 2014 to April 2017. As of the last reported period, the mobile messenger had 1.2 billion monthly active users worldwide, ranking second among mobile chat apps worldwide.

Fig. 4. Messenger's Monthly Active Users

Fig. 4. Messenger’s Monthly Active Users

Snapchat has gone a long way in innovation and increasing its user base, since its inception. Within a year of the company’s founding, Snapchat declared that its users share about 20 million images a day. This was even before the launch of its Android app. The number increased to 400 million snaps per day in 2013. Snapchat launched Snapchat Micro, an app for Galaxy Gear smartwatch users. It also launched a tool called Snapcash, allowing users to send each other money through the app. After much market struggle, Snapchat decided to go public with an initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange on March 2. It sold 200 million shares priced at $17 per share, for a total of $3.4 billion. Of this, $2.5 billion would go to the company and the remaining $900 million to early investors and executives.

Following is a snapshot of Snapchat’s daily active users:

Fig. 5. Snapchat's Daily Active Users

Fig. 5. Snapchat’s Daily Active Users

IP Portfolio

iRunway analyzed the portfolio strength of Facebook and Snapchat and found a few interesting IP assets.

Facebook patent portfolioFacebook’s patent US9280723 discloses technology to process and modify image data. The methods include performing content analysis, including analyzing content metadata, examining colors of contiguous pixels in the data, histogram analysis, compression distortion analysis, analyzing image edges, etc. The method allows the differentiation of synthetic and non-synthetic images.

Similarly, one of Facebook’s patents revealing their QR Code technology is US9307034. The patent provides a technology which discloses methods of federated access to social network information using a physical access token, which includes bar/QR codes. US7929904 provides a technology, which discloses methods for transmitting streaming media to a mobile terminal using a wireless network. Patents US9392174 describes various camera control aspects used in Facebook’s applications.

Out of the 59 patents from Facebook relevant to ephemeral messaging employing augmented reality, 43 patents are in-house. This means that almost 73% of the patents were filed by Facebook itself, which suggests the company’s interest towards incorporating augmented reality and ephemeral messaging in social networks. The company has acquired the rest of the 16 patents from different companies, which we analyze in the following graph.

Facebook IP AcquisitionAn analysis of Snapchat’s patent portfolio reveals some interesting patents, which relate to the app’s major features. Following is a categorization of the shortlisted patents.

Snapchat patent portfolioSnapchat’s patent US8428453 titled Single mode visual media capture discloses a system and method for selectively capturing a photo or a video based on the user’s haptic engagement with the touch input. This patent covers Snapchat’s common photo/video capture button, which captures a photo, or a video based on the duration of the user’s touch. Further, Snapchat’s patents US9407816 and US9225897 disclose a system that enables users to add filters to their photographs based on the geographic location before sharing. This patent covers the Geo Filters feature of Snapchat. Snapchat enables users to create custom Geo Filters for events. Snapchat’s patent US9532171 titled Geo-location based event gallery and its recently acquired patent US9459778 titled Methods and systems of providing visual content editing functions describe various custom Geo Filters.

Majority of Snapchat’s patents lie in the “Image Filters and Enhancements” domain, whereas Facebook’s patents mostly lie in the “Ephimeral Messaging” domain. The least amount of intellectual property for both the companies exists in “QR Codes”. Snapchat has recently acquired a QR scan company called “scan.me”, for their advancements in the field.

Out of the 32 patents from Snapchat relevant to augmented reality applications in social media, 20 are in-house. This means 62.5% of the patents being produced by Snapchat themselves, which indicates a high R&D investment from Snapchat in the domain. The remaining 12 patents are acquired from different companies, which we analyze in the following graph.

Snapchat IP AcquisitionNew Developments

As a new entrée to the field of augmented reality in social networks, Skype has recently launched their new application “Skype Qik”. The app allows users to record videos and share with their contacts. The videos expire after two weeks, and users can un-send messages at any time. The app also allows users to send pre-recorded GIFs to be sent as replies. However, it is too early to comment whether Microsoft is planning to enter into the ephemeral messaging domain with a full-scale feature set or not.

(Featured image is for representational purpose alone. Image has been sourced from https://www.flickr.com/photos/143601516@N03/28188286432)

Shivam Gupta
Shivam Gupta

A degree in Civil Engineering and MSC physics does not stop Shivam from being an avid coder. When not strumming his guitar you will find him hooked on his gaming consoles.


Harish Daiya
Harish Daiya

Harish leads the Solutioning function at iRunway and is passionate about Enterprise Software, Wireless Standards, Network Security and IP investments in these fields.


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