It was only a matter of time. Instagram, Facebook’s most powerful weapon in its battle to destroy Snapchat, is rolling out another popular Snapchat-like feature: Face filters, the augmented-reality camera features that let users turn themselves into dogs or zombies or tacos when taking a selfie.
Those filters were first introduced and popularized by Snapchat, which calls them “lenses,” though a year ago Facebook acquired technology that does something similar and has been slowly rolling it out inside its core Facebook app.
But now it’s adding filters to Instagram, which is a big deal because Instagram is Facebook’s best chance to slow Snap’s momentum. (Perhaps it already has.)
After Instagram stole Snapchat’s well-liked Stories product back in August, it took less than a year for Instagram Stories users to surpass Snapchat’s entire user base.
There’s never a great time to have a competitor rip off one of your most popular products, but the timing here for Snap is particularly tough. It’s been less than a week since Snap reported earnings for the first time, a major disappointment for Wall Street investors who were expecting the company to have a bigger business and more dramatic user growth.
It seems unlikely that Instagram’s new filters are going to steal away any Snapchat users, but that doesn’t seem to be the point of Facebook’s efforts. Instead, Facebook and Instagram seem content with putting a lid on Snapchat’s potential growth. Copying Snapchat’s best features probably won’t convert many 16-year-olds from Snapchat to Instagram, for example, but it also won’t give many 30-year-olds a reason to try Snapchat, either.
Instagram’s new face filters are available worldwide as part of a free app update on iOS and Android.