Facebook Messenger is now officially bilingual

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent
Facebook Messenger is now officially bilingual.

Facebook Messenger, the popular messaging service with 1.3 billion monthly users, is now officially bilingual.

At its (FB) F8 conference in San Jose, California, on Tuesday, Facebook unveiled a new feature called M Translations, which will translate chats between users from Spanish to English and vice versa with the tap of a button. If a user messages an English speaker on Messenger in Spanish, they’ll see the option to translate that message into English underneath.

M Translations translates chats from Spanish to English and vice versa. More languages to come.

Messenger is rolling out the feature first in Marketplace — Facebook’s virtual bazaar where users can sell and purchase from one another — then gradually rolling out the translation capability to all people using Messenger in the U.S. in the coming weeks. M Translations will eventually be available in other countries and translate other languages, although Messenger did not specify when that would happen and which languages were next.

Augmented Reality for business

Messenger on Tuesday also announced new augmented reality tools for the 300,000 businesses that have chat bots on the platform. The new AR tools allow businesses, including Sephora, Nike (NKE), ASUS and Kia Motors, to create virtual shopping experiences that vary from case to case.

“We were thinking, ‘What is the closest thing that we can do to let brands give their users the ability to try a product without actually holding a product in their hands?’ Messenger Head of Product Stan Chudnovsky told Yahoo Finance.   

Beauty retailer Sephora, for instance, is bringing Sephora Virtual Artists to Messenger, a free service that employs artificial intelligence so users can apply different make-up filters onto their selfies or videos. If a user likes what they see, they can tap to purchase the products featured in those digital filters or trek over to a physical Sephora location to make the purchase.

Meanwhile, Nike, which launched a new sneaker at F8 — yes, really — will allow users to better imagine what that sneaker looks like in the wild, by superimposing a 3-D model of that sneaker atop images or video of whatever location your camera captures.

Early days for AR on Messenger

For businesses on Messenger, it’s obviously early days, as far as augmented reality goes, and that shows in a few of the early experiences Yahoo Finance previewed. Kia’s AR efforts, which superimposes a car atop whatever image your smartphone camera captures, seems more like a gimmick; I just don’t see it driving up Kia sales incrementally anytime soon. But the ability for Sephora shoppers on Messenger to see how they might look with different make-up items is a potential winner. After all, there are already a slew of virtual makeover apps with cult followings, including L’Oreal Makeup Genius and ModiFace.

Messenger’s announcements on Tuesday, although incremental and not exactly earth-shattering, appear to dovetail nicely into Messenger VP David Marcus’s larger strategy for 2018, which includes furthering the platform as a marketing channel. Over the last 12 months, for instance, the number of businesses with active bots on Messenger has tripled to 300,000, and the number of messages exchanged each month between people and businesses during the same period grew four times to 8 billion.

The lack of major announcements also shouldn’t be surprising given Marcus and crew’s renewed focus on cleaning up the popular Messenger platform, which Marcus conceded earlier in the year had become “too cluttered.” Case in point: Messenger also has a “Lite” version of its app aimed at users in emerging markets that sports a simpler user interface and strips out some features like Stories, GIF support and some animations. And while we don’t expect Messenger proper to do away with some of these more popular features anytime soon, we do expect the app to get brisker and easier to navigate in the months to come.

JP Mangalindan is the Chief Tech Correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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