- On Tuesday, Facebook will kick off F8, its annual developer conference.
- The company is expected to focus on its big plan to merge its messaging services: Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram.
- Whether the company talks about its more futuristic visions will be a gauge of whether or not it thinks it’s managed to move past its scandals.
- Business Insider will be attending F8 and covering the event live.
- Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.
Facebook is gearing up for its biggest event of the year — and its radical plans to revamp its messaging services are expected to be front-and-centre.
On Tuesday, the Silicon Valley social networking giant will kick off F8, its annual two-day developer conference of all things Facebook-y in San Jose, California. It comes at a crucial period for the company, which is attempting to find its feet after two years of scandals, but which remains entangled in numerous legal battles and regulatory headaches.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s key offensive in recent months is a nominal "pivot to privacy;" a plan to merge Facebook’s disparate messaging services (Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram DMs) into one unified service, protected with end-to-end encryption.
There are still huge unanswered questions about how this plan will all work — Facebook says it’s still early days, and a multi-year project — but we may finally get some more clarity at F8.
"I think that this is going to be a central focus for the company for the next five years or longer," Zuckerberg said on a call with analysts after Facebook’s Q1 2019 earnings earlier this month.
"I’ll share a little bit more at F8 next week in terms of the product roadmap and what we expect to see on this. But some of the things we’re also going to intentionally take a longer period of time than we might have previously in order to get safety right."
We’re not in 2018 anymore
Last year, Facebook entered F8 in a state of crisis. It was mere weeks after the Cambridge Analytica scandal had broken, and the company had reacted in knee-jerk manner, with a moratorium on its approval process for apps and bots that blindsided and enraged developers.
This time around, for all its scandals — from its role spreading hate speech that fueled genocide in Myanmar to hacks affecting tens of millions of users — Facebook is beginning its conference in a less immediately charged environment.
But Zuckerberg will still need to walk a fine line in his opening address to the conference, emphasising Facebook’s new sense of responsibility while reassuring the community of app developers who have grown dependent on the company’s ecosystem that they still have a place in the company’s vision for the future.
"Expect more of a broad update on details around AI/ML, AR/VR, messenger, in game monetization, and maybe an update on last year’s announcement on dating," Brent Thill, an analyst at Jeffries, told Business Insider. "And yes, Zuck will most likely give a safety/privacy speech to help developers feel better about the future of the platform. Don’t expect any big needle movers."
In 2018, F8 was also unusual in just how restrained its ambition was. In years prior, company execs have given gleeful speeches about some of the wildest projects Facebook has been working on — from mind-reading technology to gadgets that let you hear through your skin.
But after being battered by crises, the company eschewed these far-out talks last year, in favour of a focus on trust and responsibility. Whether Facebook decides the time is right to return to these futuristic themes again may serve as a measure of the extent to which it believes the worst is over.
Facebook might throw a wildcard
The schedule for F8 suggests a heavy focus on messaging, as well as artificial intelligence for everything from content moderation to chatbots. Augmented and virtual reality also pop up — an area that will only become more prominent in years to come as all the major technology companies push to drive mainstream adoption of the tech.
Alex Iliescu, CEO of language-learning app Mondly, predicted the launch of the Oculus Quest, its long-promised higher-end standalone VR headset, as well as an upgrade to the flagship Oculus Rift headset.
"We’ve seen more than a doubling in downloads of Mondly VR since Oculus Go launch last year so we’re quite optimist about the growth of the VR platform with these new devices. I expect also an improvement of the multiplayer capabilities," said Iliescu.
He also suggested the possibility of more far-out developments, like an augmented reality headset: "An update to their AR platform and maybe some AR hardware. I know it’s a long shot but the first to launch successful AR glasses will open the next computing platform, with tremendous advantages."
It seems unlikely that this will happen; when Business Insider previously reported on shake-ups in Facebook’s AR unit , we were told it is still years for launch.
But there remains the possibility of other left-field announcements. In 2018, Zuckerberg surprised the crowd with the announcement of Facebook’s Dating service. It’s possible that, as the company tries to move past its recent scandals, it announces another unexpected initiative out of the blue.
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