Snap, which likes to call itself a camera company, is bringing that camera to the desktop. Snap Camera, which is available today for Mac and Windows, will integrate with apps including Twitch, YouTube, Skype, and Zoom. With Snap Camera running, you’ll be able to use Snapchat’s filters — lenses, in Snap speak — while streaming a game of Fortnite or updating your co-workers on fourth quarter sales. For Snap, a move to the desktop represents a way to extend its reach into users’ lives, while harnessing the advantages the company has built up in augmented reality filters.
To use Snap Camera, install the app and select it as your camera output in a third-party desktop application. Using Snap Camera, you can choose from “thousands” of Snap lenses, both ones created in one-house and community lenses created using the company’s Lens Studio tool. You can search for lenses using keywords, save to them to your favorites using a star icon, or browse the lenses you’ve used most recently in a dedicated tab. A Snapchat account is not required to use the app. In fact, you can’t actually log in to Snapchat from the desktop app at all.
The company says that 250,000 lenses have been submitted to date using Lens Studio, and collectively, they have been viewed 15 billion times. “We’re trying to find new distribution channels for those creators to surface their work,” said Eitan Pilipski, Snap’s head of camera platform. “We think this a very unique opportunity, bringing Snapchat AR experiences to the desktop.”
Snap announced the integration onstage today at TwitchCon. The company built a custom integration for Twitch that lets broadcasters easily add and swap lenses while streaming. Fans will be able to unlock lenses they see on broadcasts by scanning QR codes (“Snapcodes”) on the stream, and they can even subscribe to Twitch channels via a call to action that will appear next to the Snapcode. If they subscribe, the broadcaster can unlock an additional lens for the subscriber to thank them.
The Twitch integration will also include several new game-themed lenses, including ones based on characters from League of Legends, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, World of Warcraft, and Overwatch. Snap wrote a guide for integrating Twitch with Snap Camera here.
Snap announced its desktop camera a day after its most recent earnings report, in which the company disclosed that it had lost 2 million users in the previous quarter. The company is struggling to find new avenues for growth after Facebook cloned its Stories product across its entire suite of apps, dramatically blunting Snap’s momentum.
But Snapchat continues to be used by 168 million people a day, many of them teenagers and young adults. That makes for a natural alliance with Twitch, which has all but replaced traditional television broadcasts for young gaming enthusiasts. Broadcasters will be able to assign lenses to hotkeys, enabling them to switch back and forth quickly and helping to enliven broadcasts that can often go for four or more hours.
In an era that has been defined by the rise of mobile phones and apps, desktop software development has become unfashionable. But as someone who sits at a laptop most days, I have a soft spot for programs that take full advantage of the larger screen. In a brief test of Snap Camera, I had an excellent time trolling my co-workers with Skype calls in which I appeared as a dog, an elf, and various cartoon characters.
It’s probably too much to expect Snap Camera to introduce Snapchat to a new generation of users. But if Snap ever brought a fuller Snapchat experience to its desktop app — bringing account logins and ephemeral messages, say — I know I would use the app more. “As we’re launching this product, we think it’s such a huge thing for us,” Pilipski said. “It’s going to shape our roadmap in ways that we really don’t understand right now.”
In the meantime, Snap Camera makes for good, dumb fun. I’ll take it.