People’s Bitmoji obsession gives Snapchat a quiet edge in augmented reality

For Anokhy Desai, a new haircut or outfit requires more than a trip to the shopping center. These days, she also finds herself also diving into the Bitmoji app to chop hair and replace clothes.

It’s there that Desai and millions of other people have created personalized caricatures of themselves. Bitmoji attaches the cartoonish likenesses to funny and cheesy phrases and then stamps them on images that can be shared across social media.

The hilarity and absurdity of those images has turned Bitmoji into one of the most-downloaded apps in the world, and its illustrations have taken over text-messaging threads and Snapchat conversations. They’ve become such an important form of self-expression that it’s common to encounter people like Desai, who regularly update their Bitmoji avatars to reflect new hairdos and fashion choices. The most devoted among them boast that they spend more time picking out clothes for their Bitmoji than their real-world self — a level of care unlike anything before, experts in the virtual reality industry say.

“We would look at Bitmoji as the high-water mark for what’s been done to make the avatar experience mainstream,” said Berkley Frei, general manager at avatar software firm Morph 3D.

But what that adds up to is the big question for Snapchat, which bought Bitstrips, the company that developed Bitmoji, for more than $64 million 18 months ago.

Snap Inc. as a whole has been under pressure from investors since its initial public offering this year to increase ad revenue and show that it’s far from finished adding users. The unprofitable Los Angeles company hasn’t released revenue figures or user numbers for Bitmoji.

On Wednesday, Snap announced 3D Bitmoji World Lenses, which allow users to place a three-dimensional rendering of their Bitmoji in real-world scenes captured through their smartphone camera. The characters appear to interact with their environment, and the animations can be shared on Snapchat.

The feature marks a…

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