We often call Instagram AR’s sleeping giant. But a company more deserving of the title may be TikTok. It has exploded as a user-generated media powerhouse, differentiated by high production quality, authenticity, and a use case that engenders deep user engagement.
The same factors in TikTok’s UX make it conducive to long sessions of content discovery. This can mean potentially greater exposure for creators, which incentivizes them and stimulates the production quality and rigor noted above. All that creation energy is fuel for any social platform.
TikTok’s combination of reach and engagement has also attracted brand advertisers. And it opens the door for AR. Like Snapchat and Instagram, TikTok’s camera-forward user bases are drawn to creative tools. This makes it natively primed for lenses and effects to enhance user creations.
But despite that potential, AR has been relatively underbaked at TikTok. The technology is now where Snap’s AR efforts were before it launched Lens studio. There were a handful of in-house lenses but nothing compared to the scale it has since achieved as an open AR creator platform.
To that end, a creator platform could be what it takes to fully unlock TikTok’s AR potential. As we’ve written:
TikTok has massive global scale but underdeveloped AR (for now). In fact, TikTok sits where Snapchat did before it launched Lens Studio — with all its AR lenses developed in-house. With a lens creator platform, it could be formidable. And it could differentiate given rear-facing camera orientation (think: dance routines).
TikTok took a big step toward all of the above with this week’s launch of its AR creation platform, Effect House. Formerly available to 450 closed-beta partners, which have collectively achieved 1.5 billion videos and 600 billion views, the platform is now in open beta for everyone else.
Like Snap’s Lens Studio, Effect House will require some degree of technical abilities, but much of the UX is object-oriented (drag & drop). It also launches with ample documentation, templates, tutorials, and a “knowledge lab” to guide creators in the process of building AR effects.
It also launches with functions that provide a baseline for users to build on and add their own creative twists. These include segmentation, face mask, head tracker, face stretch, and 3D face. There are also elements like textures, materials, lighting, and shadows that creators can play with.
But it’s not all fun & games. TikTok is precluding lens formats that have raised controversy on other AR platforms, such as cosmetic surgery filters and anything that promotes colorism or negative stereotypes against protected classes. In all cases, lenses are subject to approval.
Otherwise, we could see some novel AR directions and formats emerge that are based on TikTok’s unique properties and dynamics. For example, will TikTok’s signature “Duets” inspire a new AR use case where effects morph and cascade through several progressive remixes?
Many of these questions, and AR’s broader fate on TikTok, will be answered in time. Meanwhile, all the pieces are in place. And to provide a glimpse of creative capacity from TikTok creators’ lens endeavors so far, it provided a few examples to get the community inspired. Here are a few.
Back to Snap as a historical proxy for AR platforms, it has proven that when done right, an open platform can be jet fuel for AR. In fact, it now boasts 6 billion daily AR lens plays from more than 2.5 million lenses from 250,000 lens creators. This makes it by far consumer AR’s leader.
AR Insider readers know our virtuous cycle theory: Deeper lens libraries boost user engagement, which in turn attract more developers to grow lens libraries…which then attract more users. All of the above drives the real endgame: brand marketers. It all starts with the platform.
When applying all this to TikTok, the scale is even greater, given its rapid global growth. Last year, it surpassed one billion monthly active users globally. To put that into perspective, it’s more than 3x the population of the United States, and it has a firm footing in several growth markets.
Beyond sheer numbers, a platform can germinate new use cases by providing a set of tools that unlocks widescale developer creativity. That brings in more users through a broader set of use cases. That again is the Snap AR playbook….the question is if TiKTok will follow in its footsteps.
Of course, launching a platform is only one step. Snap got to where it is today through AR execution and investment. This requires ongoing dedication and focus. Snap hasn’t taken its eye off the ball and continues to double down on AR. We’ll see if TikTok has the same resolve.