By combining augmented reality with your customizable captions, Snapchat hopes you'll share more from birthdays and weddings while earning it a little money. Today Snapchat launches Custom Lenses, expanding its 2016-launched on-demand geofilter program so you can make temporary, geofenced AR effects that people can add to their Snaps at a special event. The Create-Your-Own-Lens maker is now available in the U.S. on the web and iOS app's settings menu, and will roll out globally and on Android soon.
Users choose from 150 templates that add animal ears, sparkles or the Snapchat dancing hot dog to their face. Then they add a custom caption like "Happy Birthday, Josh!" using Snapchat's new fonts we scooped last week, including Brush, Italic, Glow, Gradient, Rainbow, Fancy and Old English. Then they select the geofence where the lens will be available on a map from 20,000 to 5 million square feet, select when it will be available, and pay depending on how long and widely it's available, with prices starting at $9.99.
Snapchat tells me the pricing is designed to be both affordable enough for the masses so custom lenses generate revenue, and to deter spam and flippant use of the platform. For example, if you wanted a Custom Lens available for a day in all of New York's Central Park it would cost $1,182. A single block in San Francisco's Mission District for a day would cost $92.
But the real opportunity is for Snapchat to become the most unique and fun way to share from special occasions. It hopes that if you equip guests with a pre-made Custom Lens, they'll use it instead of fiddling with creating their own special effects on competing apps like Instagram.
To be clear, you're not designing or coding your own AR experience. Developers who want to do that and turn you into new animals can use Snapchat's Lens Studio that launched in December. And if users just want to use the cool new fonts on random Snaps, they're now rolling out on iOS and Android with a new system that formats text as a sticker so you can add multiple captions.
Lenses are now used by 70 million people a day who play with them for an average of more than three minutes, which translates to 500 years of play time each day. The rainbow puke and dog-ear masks are what made Snapchat a cultural staple, after all. But since Instagram and Facebook added their own AR masks, Snapchat has been looking for ways to differentiate.
Back in April I wrote about how the physical world is too big for Snapchat to fill with augmented reality on its own, and there are too many ways to use AR for it to dream them all up by itself. It needed to crowdsource help if it was going to stay ahead of Facebook with its own AR Studio. Now between Snapchat's Lens Studio for developers, Custom Lenses for users and its newfound momentum after a blockbuster earnings report, Snapchat finally seems poised to fight back against its clones.