Facebook Messenger puts the camera front and center in revamp

The camera is becoming an integral part of Facebook Messenger — so much so that users now have direct access to it from the home screen of the messaging app.

Facebook has revamped its Messenger’s camera to offer a higher quality, faster experience. It has also added several new camera-related features that make Messenger more of a hybrid between iOS 10’s iMessage and Snapchat.

“We’ve been thinking about how Messenger is more than just about text — how video calling, photo sharing became a more core part of the experience,” Andrew Song, product manager of Messenger, told Digital Trends. “What we really wanted to do on Messenger is help people be creative and help bring these photos alive and for them to be really fun.”

Song says our world is becoming more visual — a picture is worth a thousand words, so why not send one instead rather than type it all out? It’s why Facebook has been adding more visual features in Messenger such as video calling, instant videos, and the company is testing a Snapchat Stories-esque live component called Messenger Day.

More than 2.5 billion emojis, photos, stickers, and videos are sent every day on Messenger.

The new camera experience in Messenger allows users to add 3D effects, artistic filters, stickers, emojis, text, and doodles to photos and videos. It’s similar to what most messaging apps are implementing — iMessage after the iOS 10 update introduced message animations, the ability to doodle and add stickers to images, and more; even Google Allo places a strong emphasis on sticker packs, text emphasis, and a higher level of customization in how we interact with each other on smartphones. Facebook says more than 2.5 billion emojis, photos, stickers, and videos are sent every day on Messenger, and the company wants to enhance the experience for its next billion users.

But it’s hard to overlook the elephant in the room. Messenger’s new camera features carry striking resemblances to Snapchat’s most basic features. For example, both platforms now have a flower crown face-tracking 3D mask. The interface itself isn’t too far apart in design — there’s even a large circle at the bottom center of both apps now.

In fact if you’re a Snapchat user, many of Messenger’s new camera features will come naturally. You can add various types of 3D masks and effects like a fox face, reindeer horns, large eyeballs, as well as static stickers, frames, filters, and more. Some of these are existing assets that have been available on the Messenger platform, but many are new thanks to partnerships with various artists and influencers around the world.

Song thinks Messenger’s stickers and 3D effects are “a little different” from Snapchat, because “it’s layering it into the conversations you’re already having.” Snapchat is ephemeral, but your photos and videos in Messenger are here to stay as a part of your shared photo album.

To start, the camera shutter button on the home screen of Messenger will be holiday-themed — and there will be plenty of holiday frames, masks, stickers, and effects to slap on photos and videos as the update rolls out globally. The social network is hoping to introduce new content for special occasions and holidays like Easter.

In case you’re not a fan of the “camera replacing the keyboard,” a palette icon near the shutter button will also let users “add art and stickers to your text.”

Song said the team has been trying to distinguish Messenger as a different platform from Facebook — you don’t even need a Facebook account to use the messaging service. It’s all about the next billion users — Messenger now hosts more than 33,000 chat bots from various companies, and just last week the company unveiled 17 social games you can play in directly in conversations.

“As people’s behavior shift and as the world grows and changes, we want a product to adapt to that and match that and be really great for everyone else who hasn’t found Messenger yet,” Song said.

The improvements to the Facebook Messenger camera are rolling out via an update in the coming days — you can grab it when it’s available from the App Store or the Google Play Store.

Photography

Sony a9 camera gets even better as new firmware brings A.I.-powered autofocus

The speedy Sony a9 is a download away from more accurate autofocus. New firmware version 5.0 for the Sony a9 brings artificially intelligent autofocus modes to the action-oriented camera, as well as a boost to image quality with updated…
Computing

Need a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator? Here are our favorites

Photoshop and other commercial tools can be expensive, but drawing software doesn't need to be. The best free drawing software is just as powerful as some of the more expensive offerings.
Social Media

Facebook Messenger adds quoted replies to better organize group chats

Facebook is rolling out a feature that should help make group chats a whole lot more organized. The feature allows you to reply to specific messages within a group chat, so others will be able to tell what you're replying to.
Computing

Sending SMS messages from your PC is easier than you might think

Texting is a fact of life, but what to do when you're in the middle of something on your laptop or just don't have your phone handy? Here's how to send a text message from a computer, whether you prefer to use an email client or Windows 10.
Mobile

Scientists wreck a smartphone in a blender, but not just for fun

It’s oddly mesmerizing to watch a smartphone get torn apart inside a blender. Researchers recently did just that in a bid to find out which materials make up a handset, and also to encourage people to think more about recycling.
Movies & TV

Apple’s next big event is minutes away: Here’s what you can expect

Apple's next big event takes place on March 25 in Cupertino, California. The company is expected to make several announcements related to its services, including Apple TV, so follow our guide to get ready for the big event.
Wearables

This $76,000 Grand Seiko watch has something in common with a plug-in hybrid car

How can a watch that costs $76,000 possibly have anything in a common with any car, let alone a plug-in hybrid? It's all about the complex, technically incredible Spring Drive movement inside this Grand Seiko watch.
Deals

The excellent Apple iPad gets even deeper price cuts on Amazon

The humble iPad from 2018 is still one of the best tablets around -- and a solid choice for most people. Amazon has seen some great price drops for these tablets recently, and now you can own an iPad for even less than before.
Mobile

More than a screenshot: How to record the screen on an Android device

If you've ever want to record video of your Android screen, there are plenty of apps that can help. Here's an easy guide on how to record the screen on an Android device with the right settings and apps.
Apple

Apple March 2019 Event Coverage

Apple’s next event will take place March 25 at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California at 10 a.m. PT. We’ve got a handy guide on how to watch, but don’t expect to see any new iPads, iMacs, or AirPods at the show, all of…
Product Review

Want to see how powerful the Snapdragon 855 chip is? Just rev up the Xiaomi Mi 9

How fast do you want to go? If the answer to this is “as fast as possible,” then take a long look at the Xiaomi Mi 9. It’s one of the highest performance smartphones you can buy. It’s a real monster, and we’ve been using it.
Mobile

Apple Card is a credit card you can sign up for and start using with your iPhone

Apple is getting into the credit card business. Apple Card is a credit card you can sign up for directly on your iPhone, and it doesn't have fees. There's a lower interest rate and you can even get Daily Cash from all purchases.
Gaming

Apple Arcade might be the new game subscription service worth signing up for

Apple Arcade will launch this fall bringing a new game-subscription service with cross-platform support for iOS, Mac, and Apple TV. At launch, the service will feature more than 100 exclusive games, with more added to the service regularly.
Mobile

Check out 22 of the best iPhone 7 cases and covers for your shiny new phone

The iPhone 7 might be attractive, but it’s not rugged. To keep your device in pristine condition, you really need to think about proper protection. That's why we've rounded up some of the best iPhone 7 cases and covers available.