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Snapchat Adds New Features to Keep Users From Disappearing

Snapchat Adds New Features to Keep Users From Disappearing

Snapchat has expanded its feature set, letting users actually chat with one another instead of just trading images. It not only wants to attract more users -- its estimated 26 million pales in comparison to Facebook Messenger's 200 million -- but also to get them to spend more time there. "Engagement is what advertisers are looking at now," said tech analyst Rob Enderle. "It has massive value."

By John P. Mello Jr.
05/02/14 6:59 AM PT

Snapchat built its popularity on pictures that disappear, but new features added to the latest version of the program shows its creators want it to be more than a one-trick app.

Both text and video chatting on Thursday became available in the mobile app for Android and iOS devices. "Until today, we felt that Snapchat was missing an important part of conversation: presence," reads the company blog. "There's nothing like knowing you have the full attention of your friend while you're chatting."

With the app's new Chat feature, you can right-swipe a contact's name in the program's inbox and start text chatting. True to its ephemeral roots, when you leave the chat session, its content disappears, although you can save it with a tap or screen grab before it self-destructs.

Chat also includes a "Here" button that lights up when the person you're communicating with is participating in the chat. When both parties in a Chat session tap Help at the same time, a video chat session is opened up.

"They're finally putting the chat in Snapchat," Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

A Road More Traveled

In adding the new features to Snapchat, its developers appear to be following a traditional trajectory.

"Any communication platform always relies first on growing users and then expanding the communication experience for growth once user growth slows down," explained Jan Dawson, chief analyst with Jackdaw Research.

"Niche, single-mode communication platforms don't tend to last very long, and they almost always end up turning into something more," he told TechNewsWorld. "Snapchat is following a well-trodden path previously followed by Skype and others."

Although there are no apps that squarely compete with Snapchat, competition may have contributed to the app's expansion.

"When you look at all the messaging providers, one of the things you see is they start off with a very basic set of features and they hook users that way," Gartner Research Director Brian Blau told TechNewsWorld.

"Ultimately, a lot of these apps start to look the same over time and they have to expand. The types of features that Snapchat added are that kind of expansion and something we'll see more over time," he said.

"Adding these really brings Snapchat up to a similar level with its competitors," Blau added.

Gold in Engagement

Future expansion of Snapchat's feature set will be necessary for its survival.

"If they don't expand, over time people will come to like the other features they see in their competitors," Blau said. "So it's a bit of a features race."

With the new features, Snapchat is creating a distinctive app that could draw users from competitors and improve the engagement of its existing fans.

"It's primarily used by people with a very specific use case in mind -- sharing pictures in an ephemeral way -- and there's not much else like that out there," Jackdaw's Dawson said.

"But this expands that experience into other spheres," he continued, "and as such may capture some usage from other apps and strengthen the core Snapchat experience. It also provides fresh reasons for people to use the service."

Snapchat not only wants more users -- one estimate pegs its user base at 26 million, which is considerably smaller than Facebook Messenger's 200 million -- but also wants them to spend more time with the app.

"Engagement is what advertisers are looking at now," Enderle said. "It has massive value."

Accumulating such value could be important to Snapchat down the road. Although it already has spurned one suitor -- Facebook offered Snapchat's cofounders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy US$3 billion for the company -- that doesn't mean a sellout might be off the table in the future.

"They still generate little revenue at this point," Julie ńsk, a vice president and principal analyst for e-business at Forrester Research, told TechNewsWorld, so "an exit through purchase may be their revenue plan."


John Mello is a freelance technology writer and contributor to Chief Security Officer magazine. You can connect with him on Google+.


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