Facebook’s latest metaverse move: dropping avatars on Instagram

Avatars will appear as stickers in apps like Instagram.

Meta

Facebook changed the name of his company to Meta last fall, promising an upcoming metaverse-centric strategy which would combine VR, AR and the company’s existing social media platforms. Today, Meta announced that its 3D VR avatars will start appearing on the company’s other apps: Facebook, Messenger and Instagram. Meta also dips its toes into promotional avatar gear, introducing limited-time Super Bowl-themed jerseys. But it’s not exactly cross-platform metaverse movement VR fans might expect that.

Existing avatar creation tools that are already on the Oculus Quest 2 (where is it Meta Quest 2 now?) and were updated last year will start appearing on other Facebook apps, but their use beyond profile pictures will mostly be through sticker pack-style emoji for now. Much like Apple’s Bitmoji or Memoji, avatars will be animated with expressions that can be sent in messages on Messenger or inserted into Instagram posts. The update comes with a few more avatar customizations that will carry over to Oculus Quest, adding expanded skin shaders, wheelchairs, hearing aids, and cochlear implants.

The announcement comes with a Super Bowl-themed promotion that will feature Bengals or Rams-themed shirts that can be added to avatars for free, but only for a limited time. Shirts and gear will disappear at the end of February after the experience ends, and accounts will not be able to keep any gear.

The avatar changes are coming to the US, Mexico, and Canada to begin with, but are expected to expand to other regions later.

Facebook already had avatar profile picture options before, but the update adds 3D animations. For Instagram, adding avatar is completely new.

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Here’s what Facebook avatars might start to look like.

Meta

“We see the metaverse as this interconnected digital world, which connects virtual reality, mobile augmented reality and the computer. Being able to offer avatars on all platforms is one of our first steps in making this vision of the metaverse a reality,” Aigerim Shorman, Managing Director of Avatars and Identity Distribution at Meta, spoke about the changes to CNET during a Zoom chat.

While avatar tools are expanding to Facebook’s other platforms, Meta still doesn’t allow more than one avatar to exist per profile in any app. This possibility sounds like a future goal for Meta, but at the moment avatars are designed to be singular and humanoid (customizations allow for some flexibility, but nothing too extravagant). “You can create different avatars on each of the apps, but right now you’re not able to create multiple avatars in one app,” Shorman confirmed, explaining that different avatars may remain on the Messenger, Facebook, and Facebook apps. Instagram, or be synchronized to be the same.

The Metaverse’s Head of Meta, Vishal Shah, told CNET last year that a large part of the company’s avatar and metaverse strategy will be to sell virtual items, either for virtual spaces or as avatar props. This is still not the case here. According to Shorman, “It’s a step towards that vision of finding something exciting and new for your clothes and accessories.”

Avatars will also not sync seamlessly as intended. Meta expects people to create additional avatars through its other apps that won’t sync with VR. Given the much higher percentages of people using Instagram, Messenger, and Facebook compared to VR, this decision also seems to recognize that avatars aren’t even necessarily incentives to get a VR headset just yet. Instead, they’re more like metaverse placeholders for apps that don’t have anything metaverse yet.

These avatars won’t be AR-enabled yet either, despite Facebook’s promises to future AR glasses and a number of AR enabled effects in Instagram and the company’s video chat-based Portal smart displays. It seems like an obvious move (Apple has had AR-enabled Memoji avatars for years), but those avatars still can’t be used to easily record animated VR messages in apps like Instagram or Facebook, either. At least those features still seem like they’re still being worked on, at least according to Mark Zuckerberg’s distant conceptual metaverse dream, which he introduced when the company rebranded last year.

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