The 2016 edition of F8, Facebook, Inc.’s somewhat erratically scheduled developer conference, kicked off today with a keynote speech that featured several of the company’s leading executives, including founder Mark Zuckerberg (above), who walked the audience through what he called Facebook’s “road map” for the next decade. Join us for a few steps – and highlights from the new services that Facebook announced today – along the way.
Hate passwords? Afraid of sharing too much personal information when using your Facebook account to log into an app? Account Kit allows users to log into apps using only a phone number or email address, sending an SMS message to their mobile devices which they can use instead of a password.
Ever share an article on Facebook while highlighting a particular quote? It’s easy when using a desktop, but not on a mobile device – a problem Quote Sharing has solved by allowing users to highlight their favourite quote and place it at the top when sharing an article.
Messenger Platform Beta
We’ve written about the business-friendly upgrades that Facebook recently added to its popular (and poorly-reviewed) instant messaging service, but Zuckerberg et. al. repeatedly emphasized just how much users love interacting with businesses through Messenger, with program lead David Marcus saying the platform has already been used to send 1 million messages to businesses – and now you can make customer/business interactions through Facebook even more enjoyable, by using Messenger Platform Beta to add application program interfaces (APIs) and bots to your company’s page.
As an example, Marcus showed off Poncho, Facebook’s new raincoat-sporting, cat-faced bot that provides weather forecasts, horoscopes, and recipes with what the developers hope will be interpreted as a welcome sense of humour. (The David Bowie reference when Poncho provided a sample weather forecast for San Francisco was appreciated, but we suspect that after two or three uses it would get old.)
Bots for Messenger and wit.ai Bot Engine Beta
With Bots for Messenger, businesses and their developers can program bots that will act as welcome screens, notifications, and even sales associates, thanks to shopping-friendly APIs that allow users to tap buttons, scroll through a selection of available products or services and, if they’re interested in what they see, make a purchase. Bots can also be taught to “speak” using the newly released wit.ai Bot Engine Beta.
Another feature that Facebook is explicitly pitching to businesses, Discovery Search will be added to the top of users’ screens in Messenger and allow them to seek out the pages (and companies behind them) with bots they can interact with.
With this new feature, businesses can use third-party apps to create animated profile videos. Though more apps will presumably be added in the future, thus far only six are supported: Instagram’s micro-video sharing app Boomerang, “video selfie” program lollicam, virtual makeup assistant BeautyPlus, Flixel’s moving picture generator Cinemagraph Pro, face-swapping app MSQRD, and micro-video platform Vine.
Free Basics Simulator and Demographic Insights
A key pillar of Facebook’s 10-year strategy is Facebook Free Basics, the app which provides people who might not otherwise have Internet access with a range of services including news, health, travel, government, and local employment information, sports updates, and communication – and which so far is used by 25 million people in 37 countries. To make programming for Free Basics easier, Facebook has released the Free Basics Simulator, which allows developers to see how their services will appear to a Free Basics user, and Demographic Insights, which helps them learn about the types of people using their services.
Aquila, the solar-powered Internet provider
Projected behind Zuckerberg is a video for one of Facebook’s more ambitious projects: a high-altitude, solar-powered, long-endurance plane aimed at bringing basic internet access to the developing world. Though it has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, even a fully-loaded Aquila only weighs between 880 and 1000 pounds — around the weight of a grand piano. When deployed, the plan is for the Aquila to circle a remote region for up to 90 days, using lasers to provide a 10-gigabit data connection to users from between 60,000 and 90,000 feet above – higher than both commercial aircraft and the weather.
Another pillar of Facebook’s 10-year strategy is the company’s FbStart program, dedicated to providing startups across the world with mentorship, developer support, free tools and services worth up to $80,000, and forums with top Facebook talent such as the company’s strategic partnerships director, Ime Archibong, who shared this photo of his appearance at an event in Brazil.
Facebook Surround 360
A third pillar of Facebook’s strategy is the company’s support for 360-degree video – but stitching together footage from multiple cameras can be time-consuming and memory-intensive. That’s why the company has designed and built the Facebook Surround 360, which seamlessly combines footage from 17 cameras at once. More astoundingly, Facebook isn’t interested in entering the camera business and is making it open-source: the hardware design and stitching code for the Surround 360 will be uploaded to open-source community GitHub this summer.
You get a Samsung VR headset! And you! And you!
Okay, so it’s not a car, but to celebrate and perhaps add credibility to Zuckerberg’s assertion that virtual and augmented reality would be the next frontier in computing (and that sooner than later we’ll all be wearing glasses that will project a “television” into our living rooms whenever we snap our fingers), everyone in the audience received a free Samsung Gear VR headset, and a compatible smartphone to go with it.