Cannes Lions 2015: How is Facebook expanding the mobile canvas?

Facebook's Chris Product Officer Chris Cox was at Cannes Lions 2015 talking about expanding the horizons of how we interact with mobile. Sookio was there to hear what he had to say, including how he is inspired by Harry Potter moving pictures and innovative apps coming out of India and China.

Over time, people, businesses and brands have used more and more immersive mediums to share their stories. What used to be a simple text update about a trip may now be a photo or a video of the experience, recorded and watched on your phone. So how can platforms like Facebook keep up with people's desires for richer and more immersive ways to express themselves and consume content across all devices?

Talking immersion with Facebook

At Cannes Lions 2015, Facebook hosted a talk about expanding the mobile canvas. Chief product officer, Chris Cox, pointed out how “we all need to brush up our Hindi and Mandarin, and the rules of cricket” because the future billion people to get on the internet aren’t scattered, but in concentrated and specific regions: a third of these people are based in India, a fifth in China.

Cox also hypothesised what could one day work as a more expressive version of Facebook’s ‘Like’ button. He drew on examples of popular apps from around the world to show how Facebook could potentially deliver a richer experience.

The social platform recently experimented with fashion brand Michael Kors on showcasing fine jewellery pieces via the Newsfeed through immersive ads which blend video with still images, moving images and information. These ads are interactive: users will be able to push their finger across a screen to turn a watch around, pinch and zoom in for more details.

“Now, ideally if this works, it’s the kind of thing that we could seamlessly transition into, where transitioning back to just the text would feel like a weird little regression, and that’s the kind of thing that started to happen with autoplay video,” explained Cox.

“As an industry we are inspired by Harry Potter moving pictures. The moment we saw these things in a newspaper it’s like, that’s clearly a thing. That’s clearly something that should be built.

“And what’s interesting is now that that’s become a part of what we expect, we’ve kind of removed two little points of friction in the experience of phone software: the part where you see a play button and you’re worried about waiting for things to load. Or the part where you decide you’re ready to wait for things to load but you don’t want to deal with an ad that’s flying around with an ‘X’ somewhere. Those are gone, the frame starts moving as it comes into the screen and it’s totally changed our expectation and our willingness to engage with video and phones.”

What does the future hold for online engagement?

In the ten year brief history of social media, we started off with wall posts, Tweets and status updates, which then moved on to photos and albums, with video as the current landscape. So what’s next? Facebook has hypothesised virtual reality experiences similar to Oculus Rift, allowing you to view spherical photo or video from any screen.

Looking at an app like Hyperlapse from Instagram, it has a stabilisation capability that lowers the barrier for someone to create film on their mobile phone that feels closer to something like you would see on TV. As a result, you’re likely to be more excited about sharing it.

Meipai is a popular app in China that has spread throughout Asia and has 100 million users. You could consider it as the ‘Chinese Instagram for video’. But the filters don’t just change the colour composition. The app edits, cuts and adds a soundtrack, as well as a bunch of other visual snippets. You can also switch between modes so your video resembles a ballad, silent film noir, or comic-style cartoons.

My Idol, also originating in China, is dubbed the ‘Mini Pixar’. Using a selfie, you can quickly compose a cartoon version of yourself. People have oddly found it satisfying to make their cartoon selves ride motorbikes, sing songs from Frozen, dance or even disguise themselves as aliens (yes). Its popularity across Asia led to the release of English and Spanish versions.

These apps are examples of mobile capabilities that you would have had to do on a PC a few years ago, which is true of the experiences that allow you to create spherical photos. For instance, Bubbli lets you create shareable tilting panoramas.

Facebook’s designers have been experimenting with the Like button with the view to make it more expressive and offer more ways to react without putting buttons everywhere. Imagine using the camera to capture your expressions and translate them into a blue face (based on the idea that people would be more comfortable with this rather than using selfies).

Facebook were super clear – “This is not on our roadmap! We don’t know how to build this”. But the platform says it’s the kind of thing that is unlocked by the components of a mobile phone that hasn’t been created yet.

Pioneering the future of mobile around the world

For the next billion people to be connected to the internet (the figure is set to double from three million people in the next five years according to the IDC) phones are getting better pretty quickly but networks aren’t going at the same pace. Imagine using a phone in Delhi at night when the network is congested. For software to work in that environment it has to be tolerant to unreliable networks.

Social media platforms are especially relevant in these regions as a news mouthpiece. A good example is Premise, an app that allows the user to take a picture of food at any market in the world and tag it with the price. This allows local farmers to decide where to buy or sell their produce. The app outputs a crowdsourced data set which non-profits and investors can use to understand food shortages 25 days before it was previously available: which staples have prices rising, how quickly and exactly where.

What aspects of these apps from around the world do you find most interesting? What can we learn about them to make our social media experiences richer and more immersive?