At Worldwide Developer Conference today, Apple announced a new avatar system, dubbed ‘Memoji’, the company’s next step into the world of iPhone X animated emojis mapped to a user’s facial movements. Move over Samsung AR Emoji, because Apple looks to have gotten the cutesy Pixar-vibe down pat.
Apple Software Program Manager Kelsey Peterson took the stage to demonstrate the Memoji creator tool, which lets you select dozens of options including the shape and color of your eyes, face, and hair. The creator tool also includes sliders so you can pick precise shades of colors, and specific accessories like earring, hats, sunglasses, etc.
During the live demo, Apple’s Memoji showed an impressive range of facial movements that seemed to match up fairly accurately with the user’s actual voice. The resultant Memoji that Peterson created was decidedly on the Pixar-side of the uncanny valley, making it approachable and actually really cute.
Apple is also integrating Animoji, as well as Memoji, onto FaceTime group chat, which is cool if that’s what you’re into.
While Samsung released its own version, called ‘AR Emoji’, back at MWC 2018 a few months ago, the truly striking feature of Apple’s Memoji system is how solid it appears in comparison to Samsung’s AR Emoji, which not only proved to be surprisingly jittery, but offered overall strange-looking results to say the least—certainly less approachable and less cartoon-like.
For now, it’s not likely that users would choose a phone based on what personalized emoji’s look like, but as these systems grow and avatars become more and more intertwined with services and apps, these AR features, although admittedly minuscule to the overall task of selling a phone, are helping form specific divisions in these companies dedicated to creating virtual versions of you—something we wouldn’t have thought possible back in 2013 when the Oculus Rift DK1 first made its way to Kickstarter backers.
Teasing it out a bit, megalithic companies like Facebook, Apple and Samsung are essentially shooting for the same goal: relateable avatars that people feel comfortable enough using, and consider human-enough for whatever task. Apple certainly took its time creating a cute, and fun-looking avatar system, and you can bet its competitors have taken notice.
And as the smartphone generation inevitably takes a back seat in the future to wearable solutions such as AR headsets, we may look back at this time as the beginning of a long, protracted avatar war, as company’s demarcated specific design language and defined how their users would look to each other and the world. For now, Apple has nailed its selfie avatars, and we can’t wait to see what the competition brings next.