Mark Zuckerbergs social network is betting big on augmented reality, hasnt given up on VR but doesnt have much to say about the Facebook killer

As Apple has WWDC and Google has I/O, so Facebook has F8: the social networks big annual conference has steadily grown, from a way to speak to developers about the upcoming changes to its platform to an event where the whole world hears about the exciting new products coming from the House of Zuckerberg.

Facebooks chief executive may not quite have Steve Jobs infamous reality distortion field the social networks ideal world is more like an artificial reality where none of the outside world penetrates but he can still wow when he wants to. Heres the eight biggest things to take away from the San Jose event.

1) Augmented reality is Facebooks big future bet

Facebook wants you to use its camera for more than just taking pictures. If theres one message from this years F8, its that.

Sure, youll still be able to snap pics and send them to friends. But the company also wants to paste more and more detail over the real world to create a second, augmented layer.

Some of the features of this camera platform sound genuinely useful or at least, fun. Facebook wants you to share pics of your run with your pace and time superimposed over the top, for instance, and it dreams of a day when youll be able to leave a review of a restaurant by pinning it to the window. (That one feels like it would have a few kinks to work out in practice, though).

Other features seem less good. Demonstrating one simpler capability of the new camera, Zuckerberg showed that you can add a second coffee mug to your picture, so it looks like youre not having breakfast alone. Which is surely the bleakest thing ever said in a billion-dollar companys presentation.

2) Its still copying Snapchat

One word that wasnt said on stage, though: Snapchat. Which is odd, because weve seen a lot of these features before. The ephemeral messaging app/social network for hip teens in rich countries popularised the idea of the AR camera, steadily upgrading its own offering from something which simply whacked a few location-aware images over the top of a pic to facial recognition-based lenses which turn you into a dog. This is something teens like.

Facebooks photocopiers have been overheating with the pace at which its been replicating Snapchats features, so it was probably looking forward to the ability to finally overtake its rival in LA. But it was not to be: six hours before F8 started, Snapchat released its own AR functionality, which its calling World Lenses. The new lenses are slightly less feature-rich than what Facebook is promising, but unlike the Camera Platform, its already on phones now. Sure, its sneaky and underhanded to gazump Facebook like that, but Snapchats owed a bit of payback. Score? Snapchat 21: 0 Facebook.

3) Facebook hasnt given up on VR

An attendee tries the new Facebook Spaces virtual reality platform during the annual Facebook F8 developers conference in San Jose, California. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

Facebook hasnt forgotten about Oculus, the virtual reality company it bought in 2013 for a cool $2bn. It may have quietly lost the companys co-founder a few months after it was revealed that he funded a shitposting for Trump political action committee, but the product itself continues to see new support. Case in point? Facebook Spaces, a VR chatroom where you and your friends can hang out and do stuff.

Its not much different from a number of apps on Oculus today, like Bigscreen, which let you chill with other people in VR except that its tied in to Facebook proper, meaning that its going to be a lot easier to integrate with your existing friendship group. The company is also making efforts to include people who dont own the expensive hardware necessary to experience true VR, letting simple smartphone users join in via a flat video call.

The developers havent been forgotten: one of the nerdier announcements was a new coding framework for VR, built on Facebooks React platform. It may sound niche, but React is a javascript library, more commonly used for building user interfaces for the web. If React VR takes off, it could turn virtual reality development from a prohibitively expensive pastime to something that companies can do as easily as knocking up a mobile app.

4) Its thinking a lot about the money

One of the onstage executives presenting alongside Zuckerberg was Deborah Liu, whose day job is the companys director of product management for monetisation. That should be enough of a hint about how Facebook hopes this bold new frontier should work for its bottom line

Lius past at the company was heading up the Mobile App Install Ad product those adverts on your newsfeed that ask you to install new apps and games but this time, she was talking about all the branding opportunities the Camera Platform offers. That includes those restaurant reviews that the company imagines people leaving tacked up, discoverable by a phone; and it also includes the more personal example of a birthday message generated over a pic of her daughter. I can make her birthday even more meaningful, Liu said as she triggered some visual effects.

Its not just adverts, though. The company also hopes to give developers the chance to use its visual tools to make their own AI-powered, AR-realised applications and plugins for the camera, potentially triggering another application boom comparable to the creation of the smartphone in the first place.

5) Messenger is becoming more like WeChat

David Marcus, vice president of Messaging Products at Facebook, speaks on stage. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

Not everything was about Facebook itself. The companys second biggest product, Messenger, also got a raft of features, helping bring it further towards Facebooks clear inspiration for it: Chinese messaging app WeChat.

While Messenger has a billion users, its not as embedded in their daily lives to the extent that WeChat has achieved in its home nation. There, the chat app is used to pay bills, book plane tickets and follow celebrities, as well as simple one-to-one communication.

Facebooks early experiments with chatbots was a step in that direction, and now the company has announced an overhaul of its platform to try and bring more and more of our connected life in to Messenger. That means simple fun, like turn-by-turn multiplayer games and bots wholl play with you if your friends arent available; it means connection with the physical world, thanks to the addition of a new form of QR code that you can scan at events to immediately connect with brands; and it means new discovery features to let you actually find some of those bots without needing to be told where they are beforehand.

6) Its working with the likes of Apple and Spotify

Facebook cant do it alone, though: unifying the world behind Messenger also means the world needs to join in. So one of the biggest coups for the platform is the fact that its managed to convince Apple to build an extension for Apple Music, so that users can browse their music library from within the app to send songs to friends.

Its not quite the first time Apple Musics made it outside of Apples walled garden the company broke new ground when it released an Android app for the streaming service but it shows that both companies are serious about wider support for their new products.

Apple Musics not the only one to join up, though; Spotify has a similar extension. And unlike Apple, which could only say that the Music add-on is coming soon, Spotifys extension is launching alongside the Messenger platform.

7) It wants to crush the workplace chat tool Slack

One more thing: Facebook wants to be in your workplace, wherever that is. The companys already revealed its product for businesses, called Workplace (made in Britain, for those patriotic firms) but it was previously pitched at fairly large companies. With pricing that started at $3 per user per month, it wasnt something that an uncertain corporation would be able to jump onboard with, even though there is a three-month free trial.

Now, Facebooks taken a lead from indie darling Slack, which sparked the trend for business software being cool in the first place. By the end of this year, a new standard tier will be free for any company that wants to use it, with businesses only needing to pay if they want more and better admin tools and cloud storage.

Of course, while Facebook is encroaching on Slacks turf, Slack too is beginning to move on to Facebooks: the very existence of the free tier of the app means that some users have found extremely non-commercial uses of it, creating Slack groups to discuss everything from podcasts to role playing games.

8) Facebook doesnt yet have any answers to its biggest problems

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