Snaps' longshot bet that augmented reality will be the next-gen Instagram

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on June 9, 2014

From The News Desk

There will come a day in the not-too-distant future when Instagram’s beloved color filters will seem downright antiquated. A day when the visual storytelling norm isn’t about simple color adjustments, and augmented reality rules the picture-taking world instead.

Or so Vivian Rosenthal, the CEO of startup Snaps, is hoping.

For a year now, Rosenthal has been staking her reputation, time, and resources on the assumption that picture editing and sharing is ready for a redo. She started by building yet another photo sharing app — cue collective eye roll — that allows users to insert graphics into photos, like movie characters, themed borders, or decorative balloons. It’s much the same as LensLight, LINE Camera, Pictoon!, and a whole host of others.

Where Snaps differentiates itself, for better or worse, is the monetization vision. Although Snaps is a consumer product, it’s targeted at products and brands. Customers insert brands and products they connect with into images they take. A parent might “snap” in a virtual reality Smurf when taking a picture of their child posing outside the theater of the new Smurf film. A breast cancer surviver might add pink ribbons to a photo of her fellow survivor support group.

It’s hard to believe that people will readily stick what essentially comes down to product placement — even from the brands they love — into personal photographs. The commercial for the Snaps branding product shows couples posing on the beach with a fake bucket of Sam Adams beers snapped next to the them, a skipping child clutching a giant ice-cream Drumstick, and women on a beach next to a cartoon palm tree with Juicy Couture sign above their heads.

“A logo would feel overt and heavy handed marketing and this is much more like a photo you or your friend would take," Rosenthal says.

But the modern day social media user is far savvier than that. It seems unlikely they’re going to feel compelled to stick a bucket of their favorite beer — clearly fake — next to them in a picture the same way they’d obsess over which color filter makes their skin looking the best.

Despite the potential snags, Rosenthal has managed onboard movie studio partners like Universal and 20th Century Fox and brands like Nike and Kate Spade for creative advertising campaigns. The Google Glass version of the Snaps app, not yet released, will bring a whole new layer of storytelling to the experience.

“It’s the next generation of Instagram,” she says. “We’re going to look back and say wow a color filter, that was simplistic.”

Glass is where Rosenthal sees the real power and potential of the Snaps’ technology. “It’s a quick step from how do you interact with these virtual objects to thinking about buying them,” she says. “It’s a gateway to what we’re calling virtual commerce.”

Rosenthal imagines that augmented reality will more readily lead to product sales or funding. For example, she references a campaign with the World Wildlife Foundation, where Glass users could “view” and “photograph” a baby panda in their living room through the Glass Snaps app if they adopt it through WWF.

Its not totally inconceivable, and certainly the Instagram network of influencers has shown its power for pushing product sales, particularly to the tweeny-bopper age. But it’s also a long ways away. Snaps for Glass is still in development, and a very tiny chunk of the population has gone out and bought Glass itself.

For this to be the future of Instagram a lot of so-whats have to fall in place. That's before even mentioning that Glass remains so ugly and foreign that the masses don't want to use it.