In case you haven’t heard or noticed, Snapchat released a major update to its app this past Tuesday. In what is being called “Chat 2.0” in a blog post posted by the company, Snapchat has unveiled several new features to its app and essentially shifted its strategic focus as a company. I’m going to provide a run-down of the new features and then give my take on what this all means for Snapchat going forward.
Snapchat stories now advance automatically. This means the next story in your feed starts playing automatically once you finish watching someone’s story. Obviously this makes it more convenient to view multiple stories without having to waste precious seconds choosing another one, a move that encourages watching more stories.
Video and audio notes can now be sent in chat. Users can record and send each other short GIF-like video or audio clips. If the recipient taps the screen the videos can include audio as well. This allows for expressing personalized emotions or reactions that traditional text has a hard time getting across.
Video and audio calls can now be made even if the recipient isn’t actively chatting with you. This makes Snapchat act as more of a phone itself than just another messaging app.
Send camera roll photos during a video/audio call. The photos will be translucently displayed over the video call, allowing users to share pictures in the middle of a conversation.
Seamlessly transition between communication methods. Users can switch between video and audio calls, video and audio notes, stickers, and traditional text all within the same communication. This means users have plenty of options to choose the communication method most appropriate for the situation without having to leave the Snapchat app.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
When Snapchat first launched chat in May 2014, it was attempting to emulate how conversations worked in the real world. Instead of including read receipts and message history like other apps, Snapchat wanted to feel like you were in the same room as the person you were talking to. Messages disappeared after they were read and users could seamlessly transition between text and video calls when they were within the same chat. At the time, many saw this as an auxiliary feature designed to simply throw its hat in the ring with other messaging apps such as FB Messenger and WhatsApp. Their core service was still sending photos and short videos between friends.
With the launch of Chat 2.0, it’s clear Snapchat is attempting to become the premier messaging app. They are no longer following FB Messenger’s or WhatsApp’s lead; these new features are evolving the definition of what a messenger app is and forcing its competitors to now take a backseat. Snapchat’s goal when they originally introduced chat was to become the app that represented the closest thing to face-to-face communication. It’s hard to deny that these new features and the ability to seamlessly switch between them are another huge step in that direction.
Becoming the go-to messaging app has a number of implications. Growing its chat user base can obviously be a significant revenue generator for Snapchat since messaging apps are increasingly being called the next frontier in mobile advertising. Convincing the 60% of snapchatters who are currently between the ages of 13 and 24 that this is the only app they need to keep in touch with their friends will prove an even greater advantage over competitor companies going forward. Beyond simply growing its users, knowing more about them will allow for even more effective advertising as well.
Overall, I think the new features and strategic shift launched by Snapchat all but ends the conversation regarding whether they deserve to be talked about in the same vein as Facebook and Twitter. While I don’t necessarily enjoy Snapchat’s UI or think they do a very good job of explaining their new features, they’re definitely pushing the boundaries of what a messaging app exactly is. Can other social media companies imitate these features? Probably. Can they do it as well? I’m not sure. As tech writer Josh Constine perfectly stated in this video, I think Snapchat’s goal to be the live window into our friends’ worlds is increasingly making other social media platforms simply feel inauthentic and outdated.