Snapchat, the app that lets you send self-destructing pics, is getting a big update today, with the inclusion of text and video chat potentially turning it into a strong generalist messaging service.
Until now, Snapchat let you do one thing – send images and videos that self-deleted after a preset time. That functionality, which made Snapchat a hit with teenagers and not only, remains front and center in the latest update. But swiping right from the app’s main screen (camera) now opens a list of your contacts and conversations, and with another swipe to the right, you can initiate a text chat.
Text chat is pretty vanilla in the new Snapchat. You get all your emoji and the ability to send pics or short videos from your gallery. Leaving the conversation (or exiting the app) deletes your messages forever, in a way mimicking the image ephemerality feature Snapchat is known for. However, you can take a screenshot or simply tap a message to make it sticky, which is useful for saving info like a phone number or an address.
But what’s really cool about the new Snapchat is the video call system. When both you and your contact are viewing the conversation, a pulsing blue button shows that you can tap on to start a video conversation. Tap it and hold it to send your video feed to your contact. Move the video thumbnail around the screen to switch between front and rear camera. This works both ways, so your contact can send their feed or simply watch yours. As this only happens when both of you are viewing the conversation, video calls establish instantly and there’s no missed calls. As The Verge’s Ellis Hamburger puts it, it’s a kind of walkie-talkie with video.
The new functionality may help turn Snapchat into a true competitor to the big players in messaging, from Facebook Messenger, to WhatsApp, to Google Hangouts, to Apple Facetime. All while keeping that twist that made the app so popular in its early days.
The new Snapchat version should start rolling out today, though at the time of this writing it’s not available in the Play Store yet.