After Facebook introduced a few new Spark AR capabilities last week, Facebook had one more trick up its sleeve to reveal at its virtual F8 Refresh developer conference.
On Wednesday, Facebook gave its audience a preview of its new Multipeer API, which allows Spark AR makers to build AR camera effects that sync multiple video callers on Messenger and Instagram, as well as the Portal smart camera setup.
Multipeer API provides shared experience capabilities for video calls, with Facebook presenting different concepts. There is a virtual campfire effect, where an owl flies from the video of one caller to the screen of another. There’s a birthday party, where confetti explodes simultaneously for all the revelers while party hats fall on their heads at the same time.
The new capability also opens up opportunities for gaming. In one example, players use their faces to guide a donut along a squiggly line crossing screen boundaries, which may remind fans of the Zoom Rube Goldberg Machine from the pandemic episode of Mythic Quest.
While still in beta, the new capability is now live via Messenger, but will be expanded to Instagram and Portal later. Interested developers can sign up to participate in the beta program.
It’s a very different direction compared to the multiplayer capabilities adopted by Facebook’s peers in mobile AR, which focuses on interacting with AR content via the rear camera.
At the Snap Partner Summit two weeks ago, Snap unveiled Connected Lenses, which allow multiple Snapchat users, near or far, to interact with the same AR content simultaneously.
Meanwhile, Apple and Google already support shared AR experiences for ARKit and ARCore that allow multiple people in the same location to collaborate with AR content.
However, video calling has become increasingly popular as people started looking for video calling solutions to bridge social distancing and remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic. This gave Facebook a boost in sales of its Portal devices and eventually expanded support for video platforms such as Zoom, BlueJeans, Webex, and GoToMeeting.
And while there are a large number of apps that support AR effects for video calls, the AR effects available are based on individual user selection rather than shared experiences, leading Facebook to break new ground.
While interacting with virtual content in the real world may be the future, Facebook has an eye on the present. It’s hard to blame them.