Mark Zuckerberg is a known believer in augmented and virtual reality. If this photo of a grinning Zuck amid a sea of VR goggle wearers isn't enough, there's also the fact that Facebook paid $2 billion for Oculus Rift--and announced in October that Facebook is working on augmented reality of its own. 

As for what AR might look like Facebook, the CEO revealed an unexpected source of inspiration during the company's earnings call on Wednesday: Pokemon Go

"The biggest thing that I think we can take away from this as we invest in augmented reality in addition to virtual reality, is that the phone is probably going to be the mainstream consumer platform [where] a lot of these AR features first become mainstream, rather than a glasses form factor that people will wear on their face," he said. Zuckerberg made the comments in response to a question about Pokemon Go, the phenomenon that's earned an estimated 9.5 million daily active users in its first week.

He went on to say that the first aspect of Facebook that he sees taking advantage of AR is its video function. On the simplest level, that could mean giving users the ability to take videos they upload and overlay them with animations, text, or other graphics. Down the road, it could mean that Facebook's huge swath of location and personal data could work its way into live video. The app is already shockingly good at facial recognition--maybe soon it'll tag you and your friends via video as well, and quickly add any relevant personal info.

TechCrunch points out that during Apple's earnings call earlier in the week, CEO Tim Cook spoke (somewhat self-servingly) about the ease of scaling apps such as Pokemon Go on a platform--namely the iPhone--that's already widely used. Snapchat is another app that's had huge success overlaying animations onto video. Both are easily available to users via the app store.

Meanwhile, getting people to buy new hardware, such as headsets, might not be so easy. Tapping into the existing iPhone customer base could be far more lucrative for Zuckerberg or any other app maker than starting from scratch.

The CEO's latest comments contrast sharply with what he said about AR back in October: "If you think about phones, it's still a little awkward to take it out of your pocket. In the future, if you want to look around you should be able to look around. If you want to select something, you should be able to look at it." 

Facebook recently acquired Masquerade, a video filter app similar to Snapchat--which he mentioned multiple times during Wednesday's call--so it's possible that's partly responsible for his change in tone. But the sheer number of people obsessed with whipping out their phones to play with those digital Poke Balls is also pretty compelling. 

Published on: Jul 29, 2016