To keep a step ahead of Facebook, Snap is introducing today a new feature for its Snapchat ephemeral messaging service that will allow users to place 3-D cartoon objects into their videos and pictures.
The technology is similar to the augmented reality used with Pokemon Go, a Nintendo game for mobile devices that overlays digital images on the physical world. Snap’s new technology, a 3-D lens, can also change and shift in response to physical objects.
Snap said in a blog post that it launched Lenses — which are images that people can superimpose on their selfies — a year and a half ago to give users more ways to express themselves. These features added whimsy and color to Snapchat’s messaging service, which has drawn an avid base of users and has helped propel new forms of digital advertising.
With the new product, users can now “find new Lenses that can paint the world around you with new 3-D experiences,” the company said.
Partly powered by Snapchat’s fan base and advertising business, Snap went public last month. But the company’s stock has fallen as Facebook and its many brands have copied the features that once made Snapchat unique. Instagram, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Facebook all now have a feature that mimics Snapchat Stories, which lets people string together their images in an ongoing story that disappears after 24 hours.
Facebook recently introduced a user interface for its app that also resembles the camera-first interface pioneered by Snapchat. It also lets people send messages that disappear, another innovation popularized by Snapchat. Facebook is holding its annual developer conference this week, starting on Tuesday.
Last week, Instagram said that 200 million people were using its Stories feature each day. Snap reported an average of 158 million active daily users at the end of 2016.
Snap’s share price has dropped from a high of $27 to a low of about $19, and the Facebook clones are very likely to be a concern for shareholders when Snap reports its first earnings as a public company next month.
Investors are looking for evidence that Snap can be more innovative than its competitors, and that its new products can attract and retain Snapchat’s young users, who advertisers want to court.
“The copycatting impacts sentiment among investors because to some degree the advertising spending that goes to Instagram and Snapchat comes from the same pool,” said Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research. “To the extent that Instagram can launch all these Snapchat-like features, advertisers may wonder why they’re advertising with Snap.”