Facebook has announced a bunch of camera effects, augmented reality developments, and chat bot-related updates for its properties.
The social network's developer conference is here. It's a two-day event that Facebook is using to discuss everything from augmented reality to upcoming changes to its Messenger service. Here's all you need to know about F8 2017, including what it is, how you can re-watch the main keynote's livestream, and all the major announcements.
Facebook F8: What is it?
F8 is Facebook's (mostly) annual developer conference - an event where the social network usually announces plans for its key initiatives and updates for its products. This year's conference has moved from San Francisco to San Jose, and it kicked off with a keynote from CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday morning. F8 tends to be more developer focused and is traditionally all about Facebook Messenger.
However, other Facebook products and properties, like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus, often get a mention, as Facebook tends to announce wide-ranging updates. In 2014, for instance, it unveiled an ad network, called Audience Network, and in 2015, it opened up Messenger to developers so they could start building features inside the standalone app. Also, last year, Facebook launched bots for Messenger.
It even showed off how it envisions the world could be social in VR. It also rolled out more live video features and a 360-degree video camera. Zuckerberg further used F8 2016 to discuss the social network's 10-year plan, which for the first time, included augmented reality.
Facebook F8: When is it?
Facebook’s F8 conference officially kicks off in San Jose, California on 18 April and lasts until 19 April. It will be the third year in a row that Facebook has held the conference, after taking a few breaks since launching in 2007. This year’s conference began with a keynote from Zuckerberg at 10 am PST, and it will be followed by yet another keynote on Wednesday, as well as more than 45 sessions.
Facebook F8: Where can you watch?
Here is the main keynote's live-stream via Facebook:
You can also watch videos of other keynotes and sessions at F8 2017 from Facebook's F8 Watch page.
Facebook F8: What was announced?
Facebook's Messenger service offers chat bots, thanks to its Messenger platform that's available to developers, but it’s still difficult to find and use the different bots available. Now, however, Facebook is introducing a new Discover tab that you can access from the home screen. It lets you sift through bots by categories, such as recently used and trending. There’s even a search field.
Facebook is also adding chat extensions into Messenger, allowing more than one person to interact with third-party apps simultaneously in a single thread. Another update for Messenger includes a new function for the M AI-powered Assistant. M will now be able to place an order through Delivery.com. In related news, MasterCard has also launched bots so you can order from FreshDirect and Subway in the US.
And finally, Facebook is trying to still make QR codes a thing. It is launching new QR codes that will make it possible for users to learn more about events in the real world. All they have to do is scan them with the camera in Facebook's main app.
Apple Music extension
Related to Messenger extensions, which are new ways for apps to integrate with Messenger, Facebook announced one of its first partners is Apple Music. David Marcus, head of Messenger, said: “I’m really excited to share with you that Apple Music will soon be on the platform as well.” But there weren’t any details beyond that. If we had to guess, it'll let you browse and use Apple Music from inside of Messenger.
Zuckerberg talked a lot about how a camera can change how people interact with friends. The social network essentially wants developers to build new AR camera effects for Facebook. It is therefore giving them the ability to do so - in a closed beta - starting immediately.
The hope is that dozens of AR-powered effects, including Snapchat-like masks and frames, will be available for the camera in Facebook’s main app shortly. An example may include the ability to fill a photo of a room with an object, such as candy, or maybe put fish around an image of a bowl. Facebook’s AR platform will also eventually enable you to leave a virtual note for a friend at a specific table in a restaurant.
You’ll be able to view the note when looking at it with the Facebook app's camera. Facebook is giving developers the software they need to create such experiences through AR Studio. Zuckerberg even teased that this tech may one day be implemented in AR glasses.
Facebook owns the virtual reality firm Oculus VR, and last year, Zuckerberg outlined how Facebook envisions virtual reality as the future of social interaction on the social network. Now, Facebook has lifted the cover on Facebook Spaces, an app that enables you to spend time with friends in VR. It is now available as a beta. With it, you can create a digital avatar and interact with friends in VR.
Facebook said it generates an avatar based on your photos, but you can still customise it. The social network also demoed how you can draw with virtual markers, watch 360-degree videos, and call friends through Messenger - all while in the Facebook Spaces app. The entire experience seems to be an expansion of Oculus Rooms and Parties, which Facebook unveiled at last year's Connect 3 conference.
Facebook Workplace, the social network's Slack-like, team collaboration software, is getting a free version that anyone can sign up for and use. It'll be dubbed the standard version, while the original, paid version will be dubbed the premium version. The standard version is currently being tested with a select group of users. Facebook said it plans to roll it out later this year for anyone to use.
Instagram, the incredibly popular photo sharing and messaging service owned by Facebook, announced offline support for Android devices. While it doesn't mean you can constantly use the app without an internet connection, you will be able to view any post that have previously loaded when you had a Wi-Fi or data connection, like and comment on them.
Any profiles that you've previously visited can still be viewed, along with any posts you've loaded in the Explore tab. You will be able to save any posts to your own personal collection, as well being able to create your own new posts and save drafts. As soon as your phone connects back to the internet, anything you've created while offline will be instantly sent to Instagram's servers and uploaded or carried out.
There's no word on if and when the offline functionality will work with Stories, as for now they do still need an internet connection to load, nor has an iOS version been confirmed. TechCrunch has been told by Instagram that an iOS version is being "explored".
Facebook unveiled a new Developer Circles initiative. It’s free and open to any developer. It’s basically a forum for collaborating. Developers can organise offline events and manage a Facebook Group in a specific region. The idea is that students and experienced coders can use it as a way to work together and create new experiences for Facebook.
Surround 360 VR cameras
When the social network kicked off the second day of its annual F8 developer conference, buried in a flurry of updates and sessions there was an announcement that the Surround 360, which Facebook unveiled last year as an open-source VR camera for others, has a successor. Actually, it has two successors: a larger version called x24 and a smaller, more portable version called x6.
The x24 has a 24-camera array laid out in an orb, rather than the original 17 cameras arranged in a saucer-shape, while the x6 has six cameras. Last year, Facebook released design schematics for the Surround 360, but now, it's partnering with hardware manufactures to bring the products to market later this year. Facebook has said that it won't sell the cameras directly.
Facebook wants the entire world to have internet. And as part of that quest, it has developed a small helicopter drone. Called the Tether-tenna, it is meant to not only deliver internet, but also help out those in disaster situations. It is tethered to a fiber optic cable that connects to a land-line internet connection and sends internet out over radio waves to people who need internet access during a disaster.
Currently, the Tether-tenna is in its research phase. But it's easy to see that Facebook is using it as a signal booster sort of like a Wi-Fi range extender, only instead of blanketing your home with internet, it'll beam it to those who need it in developing nations. In a blog post, Facebook said it could help a “local community can stay connected while the in-ground connectivity is under repair.”
There’s lots of challenges the company has to work out still, Facebook explained, including enabling it to survive through very high winds and avoid things like lightning. Nevertheless, Tether-Tenna could be “just a few years out” from deployment.