Creating a Competitive Messaging App: Snapchat's Big Strengths and Weaknesses

Describing Snapchat is like fitting a square plug in a round hole. Is it an instant-messaging app like WhatsApp? Well, kind of, but its main feature is photo and video sharing. Is it an image-sharing app like Instagram? In a way, but the images disappear as soon as you have viewed them. Is it a social network like Facebook? Well, you can add contacts, but you cannot like or comment on anything. Snapchat is a bit of everything while having its own unique features.

While Snapchat may be one of a kind, it shows the general popularity of messaging applications. Thus, for a startup, it may be worthwhile to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of Snapchat and try to build something similar to Snapchat but better in some respects.

Snapchat’s Strengths and Weaknesses

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Before we dig deeper into the best practices of a messaging app development, let’s briefly look at what Snapchat offers to its users and try to find the reason for its immense popularity.

What is Snapchat? Snapchat is a mobile messaging app focused on sending images and videos that self-destruct after a certain time. It was first launched under the name Picaboo and then renamed to Snapchat, which ultimately became very popular and successful.

What are Snapchat’s advantages that secured its popularity? Do they outbalance its weak points? The table below outlines Snapchat’s main features, both on the positive and negative sides.

Strengths
Weaknesses
Wide user base – over 150 million;Slow user growth;
Engagement of the most active age category – 18 to 34 years old;Lack of methods for engaging users from other age categories;
Self-destroying messages ensuring higher privacy and security;Self-destroying messages – no possibility to store a message and review it later;
Extremely user-friendly mobile interface;Support of only two platforms – iOS and Android which somewhat reduces the potential user base;
Multiple visual tools and effects increasing user-engagement.Subordinate feature-set when compared to other social apps, such as Facebook or WhatsApp.

These are the basic advantages and disadvantages of Snapchat that can give you an idea of what the app is about. Now, let’s try to build a chat-app like Snapchat, but aim at turning weaknesses into strengths. With this analysis, we hope to determine what it takes to create a perfect messaging app.

Snapchat Features

If we want to make an app like Snapchat, we need to identify the main features that give it its popularity. The Snapchat core functionality consists of the following features:

  • Contact list management with adding and deleting contacts;
  • Multimedia exchange in the form of sending images or short videos;
  • Audio or video calls;
  • Geolocation sharing;
  • Message self-destruction;
  • Image effects added using the augmented reality and face recognition technologies;
  • Content broadcasts to all contacts;
  • Stickers.

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Image credit: Wikihow

These are the most prominent features of Snapchat that can help us analyze how a similar app can be built and what it takes to create one.

Snapchat Business Model

What we should also take into account is the way Snapchat earns money, that is, its monetization methods. Snapchat uses the following monetization strategies:

  • Advertising. Snapchat’s Discover feature allows users to subscribe to the advertised content;
  • Geofilters and effects (Lenses). Brands wishing to advertise via Snapchat can create their custom geofilters or lenses.
  • Advertising API. By offering its advertising API, Snapchat allows partners to use its promotional tools.

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Image credit: Snapchat

Technology Stack

From the functionality that we need to develop in order to build a video app like Snapchat, we can derive the technology stack required for such chat-app development. The original Snapchat tech stack included the following tools:

  • Python – programming language for the back-end code;
  • Objective C – programming language for the iOS mobile applications;
  • Android SDK – framework for building the Android mobile application;
  • Semantic UI – front-end development framework;
  • Google Cloud Platform – application development platform.

Of course, these are by far not the only tools on the market, and you can replace any of them with the tool of your choice depending on your project's scope, the development team, and the budget. The DA-14 team has a vast experience in building social media apps, messengers, and photo and video sharing solutions employing JavaScript technologies. This tech stack is well suited for dynamic applications with a large user base and cool visual effects. The use of React Native for mobile app development allows business owners to launch faster and save costs on the development of an app for two different platforms (iOS and Android).

Components of a Multimedia Sharing App

If we want to create an application similar to Snapchat, we need to include its main components that enable the basic functionality of the app.

User Registration

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Image credit: The Verge

Snapchat does not offer registration with a Facebook account (no wonder, as they seem to be competitors). However, users appreciate registration options using their profiles in social networks, so you may consider implementing this feature. This is much more convenient than setting up a new account from scratch.

Camera Functions

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We are building a multimedia-app, aren’t we? Therefore, our core functionality should be centered around the camera functions. The app should provide a simple way of taking a photo and recording a short video (Snapchat supports 10-second videos which seems OK for the purposes of an instant multimedia-sharing application).

You can follow the usual path and program the app to take a photo at a short tap on the camera button and to start video recording when the button is pressed and held.

In Snapchat, the camera function is the first option you see when you open it, thus, the app immediately shows you what you are going to do here most of the time.

Contact List

All messaging apps make sense only when there is someone else to exchange messages with. In other words, your app largely depends on your contact list. Of course, you should set up the function of adding contacts manually; however, the easiest way is to import the smartphone contact list. This is the method most messaging apps use, synchronizing the contact list and marking the ones that already use the service.

Naturally, do not forget the “invite” function for those who are in the phone contact list but not enjoying your app yet. Viral marketing is a great promotional tool – so make it easy for your users to promote your product.

Effects

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Image credit: Google Play

This is what people love about Snapchat - sharing a selfie is no longer interesting, it’s much more exciting to attach a dog nose, devil-horns, or a rainbow tongue to your face! If you are taking a photo together with someone else - why not swap faces, too?

This seems like an entertainment feature targeted at the teenage audience; however, it sits on top of quite powerful technology, such as face recognition and augmented reality. Indeed, you need your new nose to move together with your face and to be attached in the right place.

By implementing effects, you are opening another monetization channel. You can offer businesses the chance to include their brand-effects in your app. For example, you can contact the organization committee of an upcoming sports event with a proposal to paint users’ faces with team colors for the period of the event.

Geocoding

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Image credit: Business Insider

A good idea is to let users mark their locations on the photos or videos they share. This feature uses the GPS function of the smartphone, translating the geographic coordinates into addresses or names of places.

Another related feature is using a map API, such as Google Maps, to integrate a map into your application. This opens vast possibilities, from “check-ins” to inviting friends who are “nearby.”

Filters

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Image credit: iMore 

Filters are another method of modifying or improving images besides adding custom effects. Filters allow correcting the image quality or styling the image in a certain way – for example, you can use monochrome or sepia or make your photo look like an Andy Warhol picture.

In addition, you can enhance the filters-feature by implementing the so-called geofilters. Geofilters use the geocoding feature to pinpoint the location you are in and then overlay a special filter over your image. For example, if you are in a national park, you may add animals inhabiting this park to your photo or video. Or, while visiting another town, overlay your photos with the name of the place you are in. Of course, this is another way you can earn with your app – approach places of interest and other attractions and offer them the opportunity to create their custom filters to appear as soon as the user gets into their area.

Broadcasts

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Image credit: CNET

This is what Snapchat refers to as “Stories” – series of images or videos that you can share with your entire contact list and keep available for a longer period of time (Snapchat sets 24 hours as the Stories' lifetime).

Needless to say, you can create the possibility for businesses to set up channels where they could broadcast stories related to their products or other commercial content. In Snapchat, such channels are offered for subscription and deliver content to their followers.

Storage

Yes, we started with images and videos self-destroying after a short time, but some of them are just too cool to be gone forever. For such cases, provide the download-feature to store the image or video in the smartphone or in the cloud. Users can afterwards use this content elsewhere or share it again via your application.

Text Messaging

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Image credit: Snapchat

Even though the primary idea of our application is multimedia-sharing, think of implementing text messaging too (Snapchat did, by the way). This may be your shot at the user audience outside the age category that are the primary users of multimedia-sharing. For people in older age groups, it may be more important to send some comment together with a picture than to add dog-ears to it.

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On a final note, we would like to say that, although there are quite a lot of messaging apps already on the market, there is always room for one more, especially when an application uses the most advanced technologies and offers a unique feature set that you cannot find elsewhere. New highly visual solutions, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, face recognition, are entering the realm of real-time messaging, bringing you closer to your friends and relatives wherever you are.

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