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Tenor is announcing a software development kit (SDK) for Unity and Apple’s ARKit developers, enabling them to integrate animated GIFs into augmented reality apps and games.

With Tenor’s SDK, it becomes easier to search for and share GIFs, the repetitive animations that usually convey something funny. GIFs are decades old, but they’re more popular than ever on mobile devices, where (slightly) moving images can convey a lot more than words. Tenor has made it easy to search for and share GIFs, and now it’s making it easy to insert them into augmented reality apps, which use glasses or smartphones to overlay graphics and animations on top of the real world.

Apple is expected to make a lot of noise about ARKit, its platform for AR on iOS, next week at its event. By making GIFs easier to search for and share, Tenor helps people personally express themselves better, said Erick Hachenburg, the cofounder of Tenor, in a conversation last week with VentureBeat.

As AR grows, Tenor wants to give people the power to express themselves in a new medium. People already use Tenor hundreds of millions of times per day to express themselves with GIFs in mobile messaging apps. In AR, you could wear a GIF of your mood or your favorite actor on your T-shirt or put life-size GIFs of friends across the dinner table.


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Tenor already collaborated with Dift, a digital studio known for their viral AR demos, to imagine what messaging might look like using Tenor’s ARKit API in a concept video.

Tenor was founded in 2014 by a team of serial entrepreneurs (David McIntosh, CEO; Hachenburg; and Frank Nawabi) who spent the prior seven years building companies in online video. Tenor was founded on the premise that mobile would create an opportunity for a new format of video built for the core purpose of mobile: communication. The company has 40 people in three offices, and it is based in San Francisco.

Tenor has raised $15 million to date. The company’s backers include Redpoint Ventures, Menlo Ventures, Cowboy Ventures, Tenaya Capital, and others. More than 250 million people each month use Tenor to add tone to their mobile messaging conversations by adding GIFs that visually communicate their thoughts and feelings. Tenor’s distribution partners include Facebook and Apple, and its content partners include 21st Century Fox, DreamWorks, Netflix, NBCUniversal, Paramount, Showtime, Sony, Warner Bros., Viacom, and Vevo.

A poll by Tenor and Harris Poll found that 64 percent of 18- to 44-year-old people believe that GIFs more effectively express their emotions — as compared to either words or emojis.

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