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Spectacles worn by Snap content-creation partner Leighton McDonald. [credit: Snap ]
Snap Inc., the company best known for the popular Snapchat social camera app, has announced its first pair of augmented reality glasses that most people would agree actually qualify as real AR glasses. Like previous glasses the company has produced, they are called Spectacles.
Spectacles will not be available to buy as a mass-market consumer product—at least not in the immediately foreseeable future. Instead, Snap is seeding units to developers and content creators so the glasses can be used to create new experiences and filters. These creators will build these with Lens Studio, a Snapchat-specific tool that is already widely in use.
Spectacles enable new ways to view and create Snapchat Lenses, which are generally simple augmented reality filters that Snapchat users apply to the videos they send each other.
Short of a total lockdown, universal mask-wearing is the most effective way to slow the relentless rise in hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19.
Virtual meetings are a fundamental part of how we interact with each other these days, but even when (if!?) we find better ways to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, many think that they will be here to stay. That means there is an opportunity out there to improve how they work — because let’s face it, Zoom Fatigue is real and I for one am not super excited anymore to be a part of your Team.
mmhmm, the video presentation startup from former Evernote CEO Phil Libin with ambitions to change the conversation (literally and figuratively) about what we can do with the medium — its first efforts have included things like the ability to manipulate presentation material around your video in real time to mimic newscasts — is today announcing an acquisition as it continues to hone in on a wider launch of its product, currently in a closed beta.
It has acquired Memix, an outfit out of San Francisco that has built a series of filters you can apply to videos — either pre-recorded or streaming — to change the lighting, details in the background, or across the whole of the screen, and an app that works across various video platforms to apply those filters.
Like mmhmm, Memix is today focused on building tools that you use on existing video platforms — not building a video player itself. Memix today comes in the form of a virtual camera, accessible via Windows apps for Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft Teams; or web apps like Facebook Messenger, Houseparty and others that run on Chrome, Edge and Firefox.
Libin said in an interview that the plan will be to keep that virtual camera operating as is while it works on integrating the filters and Memix’s technology into mmhmm, while also laying the groundwork for building more on top of the platform.
Libin’s view is that while there are already a lot of video products and users in the market today, we are just at the start of it all, with technology and our expectations changing rapidly. We are shifting, he said, from wanting to reproduce existing experiences (like meetings) to creating completely new ones that might actually be better.
“There is a profound change in the world that we are just at the beginning of,” he said in an interview. “The main thing is that everything is hybrid. If you imagine all the experiences we can have, from in person to online, or recorded to live, up to now almost everything in life fit neatly into one of those quadrants. The boundaries were fixed. Now all these boundaries have melted away we can rebuild every experience to be natively hybrid. This is a monumental change.”
That is a concept that the Memix founders have not just been thinking about, but also building the software to make it a reality.
“There is a lot to do,” said Pol Jeremias-Vila, one of the co-founders. “One of our ideas was to try to provide people who do streaming professionally an alternative to the really complicated set-ups you currently use,” which can involve expensive cameras, lights, microphones, stands and more. “Can we bring that to a user just with a couple of clicks? What can be done to put the same kind of tech you get with all that hardware into the hands of a massive audience?”
Memix’s team of two — co-founders Inigo Quilez and Jeremias-Vila, Spaniards who met not in Spain but the Bay Area — are not coming on board full-time, but they will be helping with the transition and integration of the tech.
Libin said that he first became aware of Quilez from a YouTube video he’d posted on “The principles of painting with maths”, but that doesn’t give a lot away about the two co-founders. They are in reality graphic engineering whizzes, with Jeremias-Vila currently the lead graphics software engineer at Pixar, and Quilez until last year a product manager and lead engineer at Facebook, where he created, among other things, the Quill VR animation and production tool for Oculus.
Because working the kind of hours that people put in at tech companies wasn’t quite enough time to work on graphics applications, the pair started another effort called Beauty Pi (not to be confused with Beauty Pie), which has become a home for various collaborations between the two that had nothing to do with their day jobs. Memix had been bootstrapped by the pair as a project built out of that. And other efforts have included Shadertoy, a community and platform for creating Shaders (a computer program created to shade in 3D scenes).
That background of Memix points to an interesting opportunity in the world of video right now. In part because of all the focus (sorry not sorry!) on video right now as a medium because of our current pandemic circumstances, but also because of the advances in broadband, devices, apps and video technology, we’re seeing a huge proliferation of startups building interesting variations and improvements on the basic concept of video streaming.
Just in the area of videoconferencing alone, some of the hopefuls have included Headroom, which launched the other week with a really interesting AI-based approach to helping its users get more meaningful notes from meetings, and using computer vision to help presenters “read the room” better by detecting if people are getting bored, annoyed and more.
Vowel is also bringing a new set of tools not just to annotate meetings and their corresponding transcriptions in a better way, but to then be able to search across all your sessions to follow up items and dig into what people said over multiple events.
And Descript, which originally built a tool to edit audio tracks, earlier this week launched a video component, letting users edit visuals and what you say in those moving pictures, by cutting, pasting and rewriting a word-based document transcribing the sound from that video. All of these have obvious B2B angles, like mmhmm, and they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Indeed, the huge amount of IP out there is interesting in itself. Yet the jury is still out on where all of it would best live and thrive as the space continues to evolve, with more defined business models (and leading companies) only now emerging.
That presents an interesting opportunity not just for the biggies like Zoom, Google and Microsoft, but also players who are building entirely new platfroms from the ground up.
mmhmm is a notable company in that context. Not only does it have the reputation and inspiration of Libin behind it — a force powerful enough that even his foray into the ill-fated world of chatbots got headlines — but it’s also backed by the likes of Sequoia, which led a $21 million round earlier this month.
Libin said he doesn’t like to think of his startup as a consolidator, or the industry in a consolidation play, as that implies a degree of maturity in an area that he still feels is just getting started.
“We’re looking at this not so much consolidation, which to me means marketshare,” he said. “Our main criteria is that we wanted to work with teams that we are in love with.”
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Tips for dodging the virus as Americans retreat from colder weather: Open the windows, buy an air filter — and forget the UV lights.