Last month at Meta’s annual Connect conference, it made a big splash by detailing its metaverse plans. As you likely know, this was coupled with a corporate rebranding to its new Meta moniker, which caused the internet to lose its mind. Metaverse mania is in full swing.

But buried in these updates was an overshadowed data nugget that signals Meta’s mobile AR growth trajectory. Specifically, 700 million people now use Meta’s AR effects (its term for lenses) monthly. And the total consumption volume of AR effects is now 80 billion.

That happens across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Portal. As for breakdowns, we know from past research that the most AR scale and frequency occurs on Facebook. However, Instagram’s younger AR developments continue to gain share (more on that in a bit).

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Stacking Up 

One question that arises is how this milestone stacks up to chief social AR rival, Snap. The latter has 200 million+ daily AR users or 71 percent of daily Snap users. If we apply that to its 500 million monthly users (the same metric Meta uses), we get roughly 355 million.

This thought exercise, though imprecise, puts Meta in the lead in AR users. That’s to be expected given 2.8 billion overall monthly users. But in fairness to Snapchat, it has a greater share of its user base engaged with AR — again 71 percent – compared to Meta’s 21 percent.

As we examined recently, both players are neck-and-neck when it comes to lens volume. They both also continue to ratchet up efforts to attract lens creators to their platforms with new features. That’s the first step in the virtuous cycle of creation, engagement and monetization.

And for both players, all of the above elevates AR comfort levels, pursuant to the real endgame: AR glasses. Both Snap and Meta have been forthright about their AR glasses plans. They’ve also been forthright that fully-actualized consumer AR could be a decade away.

But that doesn’t mean the path to that goal isn’t valuable in itself. Both companies are investing heavily in optimizing user experiences, comfort levels, and developer aptitude around spatial computing. And — in the case of mobile AR lenses — they’re making money along the way.

Ace Up its Sleeve

Back to a point made earlier, one of Meta’s mobile AR propellants is the mighty Instagram. News Feed and Messenger are fitting places for AR, but Instagram may be the real ace up its sleeve. Its one billion active camera-forward users are naturally aligned with AR.

To expand on that alignment, social sharing is core to Instagram which breeds AR lens virality, just like Snapchat. Instagram also continues to cultivate shoppable content. This makes eCommerce and AR — already natural bedfellows — on a collision course at Instagram.

Instagram is earlier in its AR lifecycle, so the above will play out similar to how it did at Snap and at Meta’s other properties. This progression includes new AR formats, user acclimation, community lens creation, and monetization. The latter is where brands pay to distribute AR lenses.

So far, this has all unfolded to some degree as Instagram works with fashion retailers to integrate AR product try-ons as part of its in-app transaction features. These integrations are logical, as Instagram has become a place for consumers to discover products and transact.

Another factor is motivation: Meta is driven to make all of this happen because its ad inventory growth is maturing on the flagship News Feed. Because that’s its core product, which it doesn’t want to oversaturate with ads, it’s looking to untapped ad inventory in other properties.

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Spatially Acclimated

Altogether Meta has several tracks for spatial computing, which will eventually converge. It has primary VR ambitions to connect the world in more immersive ways, as well as AR glasses in development. And it’s newly amplified metaverse ambitions tie it all together.

But part of that formula is socially-fueled mobile AR lenses – as shown by their inclusion in the Meta Connect keynote where the above numbers were unveiled. Though they aren’t as sexy as other aspects of Meta’s metaverse vision, they have the distinction of actually existing today.

This makes social AR lenses both a means and an end. They’re a key step to getting users and developers spatially acclimated. That will prime the next era of headworn experiences that Meta is aiming for. But in the meantime, mobile AR is generating real traction and revenue today.

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