AOL’s Kanvas launches an SDK: now any app can use its photo and video effects

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The rise of apps like Instagram and Snapchat has put photo effects front and center in the world of picture messaging, giving users not only the ability to send images to each other, but to personalise them with little doodles, lurid colors, bunny ears. Now, an app maker that has built a bunch of these is launching an SDK that will let any app add these kinds of effects to their platforms, too.

Kanvas, a messaging app acquired by AOL in 2015 that lets you take, manipulate and send photos and other graphics with added filters, GIFs and other decorations, is launching at CES this week a new SDK that will let other third-party apps tap into and use Kanvas’ in their own picture messaging services.

This is a play for scale — and ultimately scale that can be used to grow AOL’s advertising network. When AOL (which also owns TechCrunch) acquired Kanvas, the app had 1 million users; now it has 5 million active users, CEO and co-founder Vic Singh told me in an interview, and the aim is to grow that by 5 million more with today’s launch.

And once there is enough scale, the idea will be to use this new network of usage as a vehicle to make money: advertisers can sponsor filters, and AOL (which itself was acquired by Verizon partly as a mobile advertising play) will be able to sell this as another advertising unit to clients who are already buying display and video ads or AOL properties.

The SDK will initially cover four features that Kanvas has built both in-house and by way of acquisition:

● Integrated Camera is a full-screen camera to capture gifs, photos and stop-motion videos with both the front and rear facing cameras.

● Face Tracking — a service that Kanvas integrated with the quiet acquisition of Nito in April 2016 — is a service that is very reminiscent of Snapchat’s video filters, letting you altering and/or enhancing a person’s appearance in live video with 3D masks, makeup, special effects and more.

● Kanvas’ wider editing tools are also included: vector overlays, stickers, fonts and drawing on photos, gifs and videos are all a part of this.

● Livestreaming Capabilities: A live stream module merges the video stream with real-time editing, special effects and chat.

So far, Kanvas has worked with only a handful of app makers to integrate this SDK for the launch. They include Phhhoto (a sample is pictured above), Live.me, Video Star, Showzee and ROLR.

Singh tells me that a typical target app will be the wide range of photo and messaging apps on the market today, but ultimately there are a whole range of image-based apps where you could see this working, for example in any kind of e-commerce app that lets people upload their own pictures of items to sell, or in dating apps.

There is already some evidence that while Kanvas continues to build its own eponymous app, spreading these filters far and wide will be the key to growing its ubiquity and business.

The company has already seen 10.2 million users on one integration alone, into a Verizon Messaging app for Android; and there is also already a version of Kanvas that can be used on Messenger. You can also post your Kanvas creations on Snapchat, but (perhaps because Snapchat wants to save the premium UI for its own tools) it requires a fiddly workaround, Singh said.

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