How A Dog-Eared Filter Got Tech To Think Camera-First

As the adage goes, the best camera is the one that’s with you. The quality of photos captured and shared continue to improve with each device’s successive generation and tech companies are looking to capitalize on the media proliferation that’s being generated. But it’s one thing to request access to the camera and gallery on someone’s device versus making it a core feature of an application. It’s this hardware device that gives people a window into our lives and why we’re seeing greater attention being paid by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and others in different markets.

Arguably, the ephemeral messaging app Snapchat has helped to usher the camera-first idea into the mainstream, and even with all its other problems, its adaptation of the lens has been impactful in how people share their lives, news, and what’s going on around them, and has even been one of the catalysts to propelling augmented reality forward in the market.

Learning how to Snapchat. Credit: HeadCase/Vimeo

With the camera-first concept, the lens is the default feature for any app or service. It’s the focal point of the experience (no pun intended) and the most obvious example is Snapchat. Amid all of its current turmoil, its technology has been impactful in how we communicate.

A picture is worth a thousand words

The age of user-generated content is far from over, but people’s de facto medium of sharing as text may be evolving. No, I’m not suggesting a “pivot to video” is what’s the future of our lives, at least not primarily. Rather, we’ve moved into a time where visual content is preferred because after all, isn’t a picture worth a thousand words? Perhaps people are more entertained or pay additional attention to images or videos uploaded from their friends, but more services want us to be visual sharers.

If I happen to be at South by Southwest and stumble upon What’s Trending‘s Shira Lazar interviewing Billy Crystal, a text-based description of the scene wouldn’t really be sufficient or effective to help people better experience what I’m witnessing. The same could be said if I’m having an amazing meal at a San Francisco restaurant or maybe at a sporting event. We can bring people into our lives through visual content versus typing it out — wouldn’t this post be more exciting if there was a video of me explaining all of this?

“What’s Trending’s” Shira Lazar at SXSW 2015 interviewing Billy Crystal. Photo credit: Ken Yeung

As with all things, with the introduction of the smartphone, namely Apple’s iPhone, came the photo-sharing “war” where apps like Instagram, Picplz, Hipstamatic, Flickr, and others jockeyed for pole position. And while these apps facilitated the proliferation of visual content, it wasn’t camera-first. Rather, you would have to tap to open up the camera or upload an image from your device’s camera roll. There was still friction and many of those photos were timed, staged, or shared post-processed. They weren’t spontaneous or at the moment.

Snapchat offered that from the get-go from its messaging to eventual Stories feature. These developments gave way to new entrants like Facebook, which has copied practically every single feature Snapchat has and added it to Instagram, and many others. The ephemeral messaging app has shown tech companies that there is interest from the public in this new mode of communication, which is one reason why we’re seeing an influx of new offerings centered around the camera, like Lens technology, augmented reality, and potentially new marketing opportunities (which I’ll get to later).

Please don’t be mistaken that Snapchat is the originator of the camera-first concept. I’m suggesting that the company had a notable role in directing the tech industry’s push towards this direction. Not only from its overall experience, but also how it capitalized on filtering which changed how people were creative, obtained the news and socialized with their peers, and how marketers have adapted to this visual revolution.

Through the AR looking glass

Beyond Snapchat, the camera is being seen as the gateway to a whole new set of technological advancements, such as with augmented reality. Google, Apple, and Facebook are three companies which have launched efforts to get support AR development. In fact, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg declared last year at F8 that his company is working to “make the camera the first augmented reality platform.

Demonstration of Google Lens at Google I/O 2017. Photo credit: Ken Yeung

Others like Pinterest and Google have turned to the camera to help identify objects and improve search. Both of these companies have launched “lenses” that offer face and image recognition capabilities. Pinterest is perhaps seeing the most traction in this area, with it being used not only in Target’s shopping app, but also by Samsung in its Bixby virtual assistant.

Socially, we’ve become a community that no longer converses in a character-exclusive manner and instead are more inclined to be visual in nature, so the text-based posts we’re posting on Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other Web 2.0 applications are becoming outdated. This creates an opening for new marketing options, like an ad platform with the impact akin to Google AdWords and Facebook advertising. And Snapchat is the one advertisers may want to thank for it.

From sponsored geofilters, lenses, Stories, and ads, Snapchat appears to give native advertising a bit of a reinvention. Casting aside the company’s financial struggles, the strategy it employs around marketing has changed how we think of attracting attention and dollars. While Google made it popular for advertisers to target by keyword and Facebook furthered that targeting by interest and your network, these are all largely non-display ads. Snapchat has a platform that centers around the visual element, where someone is and what they’re viewing and sharing. There’s something to be said about Snapchat’s advertising program because Facebook has replicated it with Instagram.

And now it’s reported that Twitter is contemplating a camera-first initiative of its own. To be honest, that wouldn’t really be a bad move on its part, with the exception that the company hasn’t really done a lot with the camera. Nevertheless, with moves by its social networking peers, it’s time for Twitter to make moves. Could we see a version of Snapchat Discover within our timelines sometime soon?

Should Twitter venture down this route, one possible area which could see a benefit is Moments. Executing a camera-first program may allow users to quickly take photos and videos and share them on Twitter, instead of capturing it through their camera and applying it to a tweet that is then curated into a Moment. It could also give brands more incentive to create their own Moments and, like Snapchat, generate potentially more revenue for Twitter.

Similar to Snapchat, Twitter is all about the here-and-now. But Twitter is very much still a text-based platform and it wants to bring itself to be more visual. And when it comes to covering events, concerts, sports, and news, it’s a whole different game.

So while Snap continues to struggle financially and show it’s a viable company, it has indeed made some noted advancements in how we communicate, and also in the way tech companies view the potential of the camera lens on our mobile devices.