Mark Zuckerberg has a vision for the future, and it involves a lot less stuff.
“Think about how many of the things you use [that] don’t actually need to be physical,” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s future-forming, 32-year-old CEO, said from his all-glass office last week at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters.
“You want to play a board game? You snap your fingers, and here’s the board game,” he said, motioning to the coffee table. “You want to watch TV?” he gestured to the flat screen up on the wall. “You don’t need a physical hardware TV, you buy a one-dollar app ‘TV’ and put it on the wall.”
Zuckerberg hasn’t figured out a way to conjure physical objects out of thin air. Instead he has plans to produce digital objects using software-powered glasses, the kind of futuristic lenses that can overlay digital text and images onto the physical world around you.
The technology, referred to as augmented reality, is already around, though in a much simpler form. It’s the same technology that powers Facebook’s (and Snapchat’s) face-distorting camera lenses, and helped propel Pokémon Go into a cultural phenomenon.
Somewhere down the line, Zuckerberg said, augmented reality will be a big part of Facebook, too. That vision was laid out today at the company’s annual developer conference, F8, in San Jose, Calif., just 20 miles down the road from Facebook’s corporate headquarters.
Facebook doesn’t have AR glasses yet — though Zuckerberg confirmed to Recode that the company is building “AR hardware” — but it’s taking a different step toward bringing augmented reality mainstream: It’s opening up a developer platform so that people can build augmented-reality features for the cameras that live inside Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and Whatsapp.
“The tools today are primitive,” Zuckerberg told Recode, referring to face filters and games like Pokémon. “And people aren’t using primitive tools because they prefer primitive tools. They’re using primitive tools because we’re still early on the journey to creating better tools.”
“A key part of that journey is making an open platform where any developer can create anything they want,” Zuckerberg added.
That platform has a name — the “Camera Effects Platform” — and Facebook is launching it with just six developer partners, which will soon build AR features and lenses for the Facebook in-app camera. Other interested developers can apply to join the program, and users don’t need to do anything — features that Facebook deems fun or interesting enough will simply be added to the app as they’re approved.
Zuckerberg has talked about his augmented reality ambitions before, though never in as much detail. Specifically, Zuckerberg sees AR as an extension of virtual reality, which Facebook is also working on through its Oculus division.
“We can’t build the AR product that we want today, so building VR is the path to getting to those AR glasses,” Zuckerberg explained, adding that a lot of the early research and artificial intelligence used in VR is also applicable to AR.
There are still a lot of questions surrounding Facebook’s AR efforts. Virtual reality isn’t exactly booming, and the industry — which relies on content for entertainment — has struggled to break out of the gamer demographic.
Augmented reality, on the other hand, has a lot of potential corporate applications, from reading and sending emails to designing cars or spaceships. It’s why Zuckerberg thinks it could be bigger than VR, though he admits the business around AR is still undefined.
“I don’t know what the eventual business is going to be for us,” he admitted. “We focus more on the software side of things, but one thing that seems to be true is that early on in the development of these platforms, the hardware and software are pretty hard to untangle. So it would be very hard to push the VR ecosystem forward and help out there without also working on hardware early on. And I would imagine that the same is going to be true about AR as well.”
Zuckerberg and Facebook aren’t talking much about their hardware efforts, though he did say that Facebook’s AR and VR development will likely result in separate products. “Is it going to be one product line? No,” he said. “I think eventually there are going to be people who want a VR product and there are going to be people who want an AR product. I would bet the AR one will be bigger if it can get developed in a good way.”
This, of course, is mostly a vision for now, or at least Facebook and Zuckerberg aren’t claiming to have AR figured out. It’s not even clear that consumers would be interested in the concept if it did — some are most certainly still trying to wash the taste of Google Glass out of their mouths.
“I think everyone would basically agree that we do not have the science or technology today to build the AR glasses that we want,” Zuckerberg said. “We may in five years, or seven years, or something like that. But we’re not likely to be able to deliver the experience that we want right now.”
When asked what he learned about Glass, Google’s evolving attempt at AR glasses that flopped as a consumer product, Zuckerberg talked about the dangers of moving too quickly.
“They would have agreed too, I’m sure, that they couldn’t build the thing that they wanted to. So they built [Glass] instead and kind of thought that that might be a stepping stone,” he said. “But I think getting the stepping stones right is the art in this.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.