Twitter loses its AR, VR head Alessandro Sabatelli

Twitter has lost its head of augmented reality and virtual reality.

Twitter’s director of AR and VR, Alessandro Sabatelli, is leaving the company, he announced on Twitter on Monday. A former Apple designer, Sabatelli had joined Twitter less than two years ago.

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed Sabatelli’s departure but declined to comment on the company’s AR and VR plans moving forward.

It’s unclear how significant the loss of Sabatelli is for Twitter because it’s unclear how invested Twitter is in AR and VR.

The company’s most high-profile VR work seems to be its experiments with 360-degree video, which is the Google Cardboard of VR content. Even then, Twitter had already begun testing 360-degree video in June 2016, shortly before Sabatelli’s hire was announced. Later that year, Twitter extended the VR-lite format to its Periscope live-streaming service and added live 360-degree video to Twitter, which continues to be used to broadcast events such as PGA Tour tournaments.

But following those initial efforts, there’s little, if any, evidence of Twitter attempting to further extend its platform into VR environments or to bring more full-fledged VR content onto its platform, whereas Facebook has invested in both through its Facebook Spaces VR app and its recent tests of web-based VR apps within its traditional News Feed.

Twitter’s foray into AR appears to be similarly tepid. Months after Sabatelli joined Twitter, Twitter-owned Periscope debuted its copy of Snapchat’s AR face filters, which Facebook had cloned just a week earlier for its live video product.

However, since then, Twitter seems to have gone quiet. Unlike Facebook or Snapchat, Twitter has yet to add AR effects to its flagship app’s camera, despite Apple and Google making it easier for developers to incorporate AR into their apps. In fact, as is often the case with Twitter, it was left to outside developers to innovate on Twitter’s behalf. Late last year, independent iOS developer Oscar Falmer debuted an iPhone app that used Apple’s ARKit to create an AR version of Twitter.

About The Author

Tim Peterson
Tim Peterson, Third Door Media's Social Media Reporter, has been covering the digital marketing industry since 2011. He has reported for Advertising Age, Adweek and Direct Marketing News. A born-and-raised Angeleno who graduated from New York University, he currently lives in Los Angeles. He has broken stories on Snapchat's ad plans, Hulu founding CEO Jason Kilar's attempt to take on YouTube and the assemblage of Amazon's ad-tech stack; analyzed YouTube's programming strategy, Facebook's ad-tech ambitions and ad blocking's rise; and documented digital video's biggest annual event VidCon, BuzzFeed's branded video production process and Snapchat Discover's ad load six months after launch. He has also developed tools to monitor brands' early adoption of live-streaming apps, compare Yahoo's and Google's search designs and examine the NFL's YouTube and Facebook video strategies.