Mobile Digest: Facebook bets its future on augmented reality

Mark Zuckerberg wants to turn all reality into augmented reality, and he's launched the first mainstream AR platform for developers to make it happen. Andrew Tolve reports.

In the news

 

Forget about goofy glasses that nobody’s ever going to wear, Mark Zuckerberg announced last week that the augmented reality device of the future is already here — in your pocket. Speaking in his keynote address at the annual F8 global developer conference, Zuckerberg argued that the camera on your smartphone has all the technological wherewithal necessary to project digital overlays on the real world, from selfie masks to snippets of information to beautiful street art. Picture a waterfall streaming down the side of the Empire State Building. Or imagine your partner leaving you a virtual post-it on the fridge or street directions through a busy market like a trail of digital breadcrumbs. The sky’s the limit, and Facebook wants it all to happen on Facebook’s in-app camera and to be instantly sharable with its nearly 2 billion users around the world. To that end, Zuckerberg launched the first mainstream augmented reality platform at Facebook F8 called the Camera Effects Platform, which allows developers and artists to start building frames and interactive effects for Facebook’s camera. Given the dearth of AR studios out there, expect to see a mad rush of startups in the coming months, akin to what we’ve seen with virtual reality companies in the past year. 

 

In the money

 

T-Mobile emerged as the dominant winner in the Federal Communications Commission’s self-dubbed “spectrum extravaganza,” which put a whopping 600 MHz spectrum up on the auction block. T-Mobile secured 45% of the available spectrum with a bid of $8 billion and will use it to expand its network across all the U.S. and Puerto Rico. U.S. Dish Networks came in second with a bid of roughly $6 billion and Comcast third with a bid of $1.7 billion. 

 

Oracle acquired digital measurement company Moat for $850 million. Moat is an ad analyzer that allows digital ad buyers to track when and where their ads are appearing, both on mobile devices and desktop browsing. Moat will remain an independent platform within Oracle Data Cloud, providing measurement, analytics and intelligence to brands like Nestle, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, and leading publishers such as ESPN, Facebook, NBCUniversal, Snapchat and YouTube.

 

Quora, the app with expert opinions and answers to just about everything, raised $85 million at a valuation of $1.8 billion. The app has nearly doubled its user base to 190 million in the past year and is beta testing in-app ads as its primary path toward monetization. Quora’s biggest competitor is Yahoo Answers Now. 

 

In other news

 

Xiaomi took the wraps off its new flagship smartphone, the Mi 6. The phone is a dead ringer for the iPhone 7 with one notable exception: the entry level Mi 6 retails for $360, whereas the entry level iPhone 7 starts at $649. Given that most smartphones are similar these days, no matter how hard manufacturers try and convince you they’re not, going low on price may prove a good bet. Sales start April 28.

 

Speaking of dubious differentiation claims, HTC is set to debut the world’s first squeezable smartphone, the U. By squeezable, HTC means that the phone will have a series of sensors running down its sides that users can squeeze to control different functions on the phone, much like they currently do via swipes and taps on the main screen. Gimmick or game changer? You be the judge when the phone debuts on May 16. 

 

Apple is officially pursuing a self-driving car. It’s long been considered the worst kept secret in Silicon Valley, and although Apple still hasn’t copped to the news, we now know that the tech giant has applied for and received an Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. That means iCars are likely to soon join the ranks of Google, Tesla, Ford, BMW and others who are testing self-driving cars on California roads. 

 

Microsoft dropped the ax on Wunderlist, the task management app that it purchased back in 2015 for between $100 and $200 million. Wunderlist still has an active user base of some 9 million, all of whom now must migrate over to Microsoft’s Wunderlist replacement, announced last week as Microsoft To-Do. The new app is designed by the Wunderlist team and allows users to create lists across a range of topics — groceries, work, family, etc. Each item on a list gets automatically integrated into Microsoft Exchange and Outlook when appropriate.

 

Finally, returning to F8, Facebook launched a host of new services and features aimed at businesses and mobile enterprises. An updated Messenger app called “Messenger Platform 2.0” makes it easier for businesses to connect directly with customers thanks to a new Discover tab that allows users to scroll a list of nearby and featured businesses. Tap a specific business and more info pops up along with the ability to start a conversation or make an appointment. Facebook also updated Workplace, its social media hub for businesses, to allow for easier integration with Microsoft, Salesforce, Dropbox and other productivity tools. Businesses can now livestream multiparty meetings directly to Workplace as well.

 

The Mobile Digest is a biweekly lowdown on the world of mobile, combining Open Mobile Media analysis with information from industry press releases.

 

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to Open Mobile Media.