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Snap is about more immersive, personalised experiences: Murphy

Oct 27, 2021 05:36 PM IST

Bobby Murphy, co-founder and chief technology officer at Snap, and in many ways the company’s secret weapon when it comes to developing new features and the experience on the Snapchat app, spoke with Hindustan Times

Snap, an app you may remember as Snapchat, is a bit of everything including an instant messaging app, a social network and a strong creator community. Yet, Snap Inc. calls itself a camera company, because they say all the engagement emerges from the phone’s camera. The company has announced crossing the milestone of 100 million active Snapchat users in India at the second edition of Snap In India forum. This comes as the tech company has made significant push over the past few months towards localisation in India.

Co-founder of Snap, Bobby Murphy says the potential of Augmented Reality to create new professional and career opportunities is being recognised now. (Image courtesy- Snap)
Co-founder of Snap, Bobby Murphy says the potential of Augmented Reality to create new professional and career opportunities is being recognised now. (Image courtesy- Snap)

Snap is embarking on a strategic partnership with online shopping platform Flipkart, to enable augmented reality (AR) via Snap’s camera kit on Flipkart’s store front on the smartphone apps. This will allow shoppers to experience a more immersive and personalised experience. The India localisation focus for Snap continues with the extension of the partnership with Samsung that adds AR powered lenses to native camera apps on Samsung Galaxy phones, which now extends to the M series phones too. Snap Map, a personalised virtual map of user surroundings, will now work with the Zomato app to include restaurant information and the ability to place orders from within the map. Snap has also confirmed that they will be launching a free, early-stage founder focused program in India called Yellow Tree Bootcamp. This is expected to help the Indian start-ups connect with experts to discuss fund raising, operations, growth, including how to leverage tools like Snap Kit and Snapchat Ads Manager for their businesses.

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Bobby Murphy, co-founder and chief technology officer at Snap, and in many ways the company’s secret weapon when it comes to developing new features and the experience on the Snapchat app, spoke with Hindustan Times to discuss why Snap calls it a camera company, the push for AR and the opportunities it provides apart from the usage trends from India and the engagement around unique applications such as Photomath. Here are the edited excerpts.

Q. From the launch in 2012 to the introduction of Lenses in 2015 and the extensive AR focus from 2016, how has the journey been?

We’ve seen incredible growth in India. I think our vision around augmented reality, which began many, many years ago, as we started recognising the special engagement around visual communication or this kind of frequency of interaction with our camera. It led us to invest early in creative effects through augmented reality which extends to efforts for building this platform around augmented reality.

We have potential for augmented reality to really significantly change the way we engage with each other and with the world around us, because I think it represents a capacity to render or visualise software experiences in the way humans normally see the world and kind of imagine things in the world.

And so, for us especially in India, it’s been incredibly exciting to see the growth of engagement. Our big milestone for 100 million Snapchatters in India is a real testament to the tremendous work our team in India has put in, as well as the support from team members outside of India. They have been working with local organisations, local creators, developers and companies to empower not just consumers to engage with reality in a strong way, which we have seen, but also the creators and developers on the other side of the platform.

I think it is being recognized that AR has the potential to create new professional and career opportunities and for brands and companies to reach customers in highly differentiated, novel and new interactive ways. We’re very optimistic about the future of augmented reality in particular, and the growth momentum we are seeing in India.

Q. How has the user engagement evolved with the AR features, which in a way bring overlays from post to pre-capture? Have the numbers been surprising?

I think it reflects our own excitement of innovating around augmented reality because Snapchat is so rooted in visual communication. While capturing and sharing photos with close friends and family frequently, what I think originally began in some cases like simple post (photo) capture effects, things like geo-filters, drawing tools and captions really allowed us to think more actively about the potential use of advanced computer vision and graphics to bring more immersive effects into the pre (photo) capture experience. It is recognising that the live camera represents an even more interesting opportunity for us to not just help people express themselves creatively but also support their ability to learn about the world, and to try on products to shop in new ways.

In India, it is just a tremendous amount of sustained and growing engagement around augmented reality. We have seen some really amazing engagement around the many holidays in India, and we have partnered with local creators who have reached huge numbers of engagement and created some really spectacular lenses. I think what’s exciting is that we are seeing success and momentum on both sides of our platform-- with Snapchatters engaging very heavily with augmented reality along with creators, brands and businesses recognising the opportunity to reach customers and audiences with brand new experiences.

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Q. You mentioned about shopping, particularly the partnership with Flipkart. Can you tell us a bit about what sort of features users can expect?

So this is this is done through our product called camera kit, which we integrate into other companies applications to power AR with Snap’s AR technology. As with Flipkart, we have actually seen on our own service on Snapchat, some really positive engagement around commerce related lenses. We are excited about working with Flipkart to bring AR try-on to their service.

Q. We’ve often wondered about Snap calling itself a camera company. With that as the background, where do Games and Maps fit in?

Our idea of Snap as a camera company is a little bit abstract as Snap represent a service that reflects your personal view of the world including your close friends and family in your specific context, while this positioning is more literal in our investment in augmented reality and users looking at the world through our camera.

In cases such as Games, our investment is really inspired by recognition that people socialise very strongly around games as many of us have experienced playing console games sitting on a couch with friends in the same room. The shared physical context and playing a game together was really the basis for our investment in the Games platform, but without having to be in the same room.

Similarly Maps is an effort to reflect your personal view but through this new Canvas in a map. We have seen that most of the maps we engage with are fairly static and I will see the same map that you see, for example, but our perspective of our local environment should be tailored to our own unique personal tastes. And so, the Snapchat map being able to see who your friends are on the map, the places you kind of most visit and find to be most interesting, was where we saw an opportunity.

Q. The partnership with Photomath to solve math equations is quite unique. How does that work, and what’s been the user engagement around that?

Photomath is a fantastic partner for us, and they are a real great company. They built a really innovative product, using computer vision to understand and read a math equation and then help students and others solve those equations step by step. We as a company were extremely enthusiastic about this potential of the camera starting with creative expression but expanding into many more uses and Photomath is exactly one of these companies.

Q. How has the user engagement in India been on the community side?

I would say India represents a really great example of how powerful it is to partner locally, and very deeply. Our team and our community in India has done a great job. Empowering lens creators, educating new creators in ways that allow people in India to participate and lots of other people in their local communities through AR and through content and other features. We have seen that we are partnering deeply with local organisations and local creators, those are the kind of experiences that resonate most with our community in India. And that’s why we are so interested in continuing to invest in our lens studio workshops and the lens hackathon that we have done across the country.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Vishal Mathur is Technology Editor for Hindustan Times. When not making sense of technology, he often searches for an elusive analog space in a digital world.

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