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Now you can give blurry NSFW photos their proper context.
Snapchat just introduced its biggest update yet: a new chat feature.
Users can send each other text-based chat messages in addition to disappearing photos and videos. Prior to this, Snapchat users could add captions to their media if they wanted to say something to their friends, but the debut of a separate feature shows Snapchat is intent on becoming a serious player in the messaging app world.
To use the chat function, users can swipe right on their friend’s name in the Snapchat inbox. That brings them to a fairly generic-looking chat screen. Like the photos, chat logs disappear, although Snapchat acknowledged users can take screenshots if there is something they want to remember in the chat log, like an address. The chat is stripped down. There is no evidence that the other person is typing, and the read receipts are unconventional. The message will simply appear, and when the recipient reads it, it will disappear.
Snapchat will tell users if the friend they want to chat is using the app at that time, to facilitate real-time conversations. “And if you’re both Here, simply press and hold to share live video—and Chat face-to-face!” the Snapchat blog reads.
So not only is Snapchat getting a Chat feature, it is getting a videochat feature. According to the Verge, if both users are ready to talk, it can function as a fairly straightforward live videochat. Or, if the recipient doesn’t answer, the person calling can leave an extended video message, and they can use both the back and front-facing cameras. The friend can join in if they find the video while the caller is still using the app.
Snapchat is already a major player as a photo-sharing app, but this is a bold move onto the messaging app playing field. Recently, Instagram introduced a photo-and-text messaging feature called Instagram Direct, and Twitter revamped its Direct Messages to include photo, but neither move made much of an impact—partially because Snapchat has entrenched itself as the go-to image-based messaging app already.
With its new chat feature, Snapchat doesn’t threaten Instagram and Twitter as much as it does Facebook in general. In addition to Instagram, Facebook has two messaging apps serving as anchors for its strategy of building a standalone app empire: Messenger, and Whatsapp. Both are primarily text-based, so Snapchat’s decision to introduce text-based messaging brings them a new competitor that already has a robust userbase.
Illustration by Jason Reed
Kate Knibbs is a notable tech reporter and pop culture essayist. A former staff writer for the Daily Dot, her work has appeared in Gizmodo, the Ringer, AV Club, Digital Trends, Popular Mechanics, and Time.