Today, the world witnessed Tim Cook as a talking alien emoji, Craig Federighi as a clucking chicken emoji, and Jony Ive as smiling poo emoji. This new bit of AR magic is called Animoji, and it’s more than a little unsettling.
Apple’s animated emoji, which represent a whimsical application of the True Depth camera the company also announced today at the Steve Jobs Theater, aren’t just a silly add-on to the new iPhone X. They’re an example of Apple letting its competitors figure out applications for augmented reality before releasing its own technology and truly bringing it to the mainstream.
Both Snapchat and Facebook (through Instagram) have had augmented reality masks for a long time. But from today’s demos, showing how Apple’s technology will work within the Snapchat app as well as Apple execs speaking as talking animals, it was clear that Apple has figured out how to seamlessly map users’ faces, seemingly perfecting a technology most users are already relatively familiar with.
Of course, that technology–christened Face ID–was mostly developed to enable the phone to unlock with just a glance, essentially turning your face into the iPhone’s most secure passcode yet. It uses 30,000 invisible dots to create a mathematical model of your face, then checks it against the model you created when you first set up your phone. The animoji are simply another application of this technology, bringing facial tracking and AR right into an app and format you’re already familiar with and likely use every day.
As my colleague Mark Wilson has noted, it’s hard to imagine AR having what he called a “killer app” that will change the way people do things as fundamentally as apps like Maps and Uber have. But Apple has found a way to seamlessly integrate AR into one of the primary things people do on a phone: send messages. While it will only be available on the iPhone X for now, Apple is finally competing with Snapchat and Facebook, bringing AR to the masses while giving people more of a reason to use iMessage and stay within the Apple ecosystem.
“If you were by chance wondering what humanity would do when given access to the most advanced facial tracking technology available, you now have your answer,” said Craig Federighi during today’s Apple event, speaking as a poo animoji. We have Apple’s answer as well.