Bots, virtual reality and live video: Facebook's latest announcements explained
Facebook announced a raft of new features and products in areas from its Messenger platform to virtual reality (VR) at its F8 developer conference on Tuesday.
While "chatbots" and live-streaming video from drones may seem like a gimmick, there is big play from Facebook in increasing video engagement, boosting VR and making Messenger the one-stop-shop for everything.
Here's why the announcements are important for the social networking giant.
Facebook unveiled its own professional-grade 360-degree video camera to film VR footage.
The Surround 360 contains 17 cameras and looks like a flying saucer with Facebook saying that the materials to build this device cost US$30,000. Essentially, the camera weaves the images from all the cameras into one 360-degree picture.
Interestingly, Facebook is giving away the design plans and software code for free. Of course, Facebook will want to make some money from the hardware, but the hope is that a number of other manufacturers will produce different versions of this, for example a consumer version which may be cheaper.
"The reason why companies are bringing these to market is…to help consumers and help content creators to make the content needed for VR products," says Ian Fogg, head of mobile at IHS.
Facebook bought VR firm Oculus in 2014 which makes the Oculus Rift headset. The social networking firm has also allowed 360 degree video on its website. So the latest move is a bid to boost the amount of content out there to help VR take off in a big way.
Nokia has its own US$60,000 professional VR camera called OZO, while Samsung recently released a handheld consumer 360-degree camera called the Gear VR, all of which should make Facebook very excited.
"Bots" were a big part of the conference. Essentially a bot is a piece of software that people can send messages to and automatically receive a response back. It works using artificial intelligence (AI).
Facebook launched tools for developers to be able to build bots inside Facebook Messenger with the idea that customers can talk to brands via the app. Initially the bot will be a mixture of AI and human intervention when the question is too difficult, but the aim is to make them fully automated.
An example would be for a customer to handle complaints via that and even get to a point where they can order goods through Messenger. While chief executive Mark Zuckerberg didn't highlight how this would be monetized, analysts said it has opened several revenue streams.
"It is about messages from users to companies. Part of it is how they display and sell products through messenger. There are several options opening up here and that is a key part of Facebook positioning it as platform," according to Martin Garner, senior vice president of internet research at CCS Insight.
The idea is that Messenger becomes a one-stop-shop for everything a user wants to do as consumers are feeling app fatigue. By having shopping, search, ordering cabs and other actions in one app, Facebook will be able to appeal to consumers not wanting 20 different apps on their smartphone.
Bots are not new and have been around in China in particular for some time. Meanwhile, companies like messaging app Telegram already have a bot store. The key aspect for Facebook is that Messenger has more users than its rivals, 900 million to be precise. Messenger might be these users' first encounter with bots and this could give Facebook a big advantage.
Facebook's video views are exploding. The company said in November that it has 8 billion daily video views. Given that Facebook can often charge more for a video advertisement, the focus on the medium is understandably huge.
Live video has been a recent feature that Facebook rolled out. Users had to use a smartphone to live stream, but Facebook announced Tuesday that it will let any camera stream live to Facebook, even a drone.
At the conference, a drone made by Chinese firm DJI demonstrated the new capability. This is a big challenge to YouTube and Twitter's Periscope as it broadens the appeal of watching Facebook Live beyond just people taking selfie videos.
"Video is a massive expansion area for Facebook and a big headache for Google with YouTube. What I think they are doing with Facebook Live is really extending the reach and that opens the door to a large number of options about how you interact with video," Garner said.