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AOL ups social-photo-editing abilities with Switch

Facial-recognition grid
Stegerphoto | Peter Arnold | Getty Images

AOL is hoping it can cash in on the social-media-photo-editing craze by launching a new app called Switch.

AOL will announce at VidCon in Anaheim, Calif., on Thursday that Kanvas, the company's photo and video-editing platform, will be launching Switch. The new app will combine Kanvas' existing capabilities with the ability to change your face with 3-D avatars ad other content, makeup and masks. It can operate in three modes: photo, video and burst, six consecutive photos that are looped together forward and backward.

"For millennials, the amount of time they spend with media is about creating content as much as consuming content," said Dave McDowell, general manager of the AOL Membership Group. "It's a platform for creators with the best set of creative tools, and the ability to share those creations anywhere on the internet."

Kanvas Labs was acquired by AOL in 2015. It has 3.5 million users as of April, the last time numbers were disclosed. To add the newest Switch features, AOL acquired facial-recognition company Nito and integrated its technology into Kanvas' capabilities.

Kanvas has a new app that will allow users to put digital masks, makeup and avatars on their face. Photo courtesy of AOL.

It's hard not to point out that Switch is similar to Snapchat, the buzzy social-messaging app that allows users to put "lenses" or digital masks and filters on their faces, as well as edit photo and video. Snapchat was valued at $22 billion during its last financing round in May.

The craze also led Facebook to purchase Masquerade, an app that allows people to swap faces, in March.

"Teenagers spend their media time not sitting back and watching TV, but actually creating and expressing themselves," McDowell said. "Our competitors and us all observe the same behavior. As soon as you give them rich editing tools and a mobile device, the first thing they do is draw on their face."

AOL and Kanvas say the app has a couple things they hope will set it apart from the rest of the pack. Kanvas has always allowed users to share their creations across all forms of media, unlike Snapchats, which delete after being viewed. Tumblr recently announce it would allow Kanvas users to share live edited video on its platform.

It's also integrated with Verizon messaging. Verizon purchased AOL in June 2014 for $4.4 billion.

"We're all about being an open platform for creativity," said Vic Singh, Kanvas Founder and CEO. "It does make sense to make these tools portable, not only for sharing with other networks but other apps. Verizon Messages is a great example of that."

Singh said the popularity of social-photo-editing apps has to do with the fact that smartphones are finally advanced enough to handle the technology. He pointed out that Instagram was the first to allow people to quickly manipulate photos with a simple filter.

"For the first time, everyone is walking around with an always-connected camera in their pocket. … Drawing, typography, overlays: There's all this content you can put on top of media to make it more rich and express yourself," he said.