Enjoy a fleeting moment with Snapchat

Snapchat is an iOS and Android app from the company of the same name. The app itself is available as a free download from the App Store and Google Play.

Snapchat’s concept is an interesting and strange one, and not necessarily one that works. The idea is that users can share snapshots or short 10-second videos of a specific moment and share them with friends. Conventional enough, you might think, but the twist with Snapchat is that once the recipient opens the photo or video, they only have a limited amount of time to view it before it is marked as “opened” any may never be opened ever again. The app even tracks whether or not the recipient took a screenshot of the photo or video — though given that viewing a “snap” requires pressing and holding on the screen, taking a screenshot requires an impressive act of contortionism or the cooperation of another person to pull off correctly.

The idea is, presumably, to capture life’s fleeting moments and reflect the fact that they are gone just as quickly as they happen. In practice, however, it’s simply rather annoying. Tapping to open a received image starts the timer, which continues counting down even if the user does not continue to press and hold on the screen to view it. On the small screen of the iPhone, pressing and holding on the screen blocks a significant proportion of the image the user is supposed to be viewing, making it rather inelegant and cumbersome to view. This is ably demonstrated by the demonstration picture that Snapchat’s team sends the user upon starting the app for the first time — it’s difficult to take in all the information it provides in just ten seconds, between the dual inconveniences of your hand blocking the screen and the time limit.

Snapchat requires that users know each others’ Snapchat usernames in order to contact each other — consequently, the app’s reviews largely seem to consist of single men looking for “hot girls” to message with the service. There is a “find friends” function, but this inexplicably requires the user to send a text message to a U.S. phone number — not ideal for users outside the States — and confirm their identity that way, rather than using Facebook. There is a Facebook button in the app, but all it does is open the iOS Facebook app — it doesn’t even display Snapchat’s Facebook page.

There are other poorly-implemented features, too — viewing a user’s profile from the in-app friends list does not load their information in the app, for example; it instead loads a web-based profile by switching to Safari, and does not provide the facility to send a message to them from their profile. Instead, users must take a photo or video first, then choose who they are going to send it to.

The app’s interface is also unclear — when taking a photo or video, users may draw on or add text to it, which is a nice touch, but the app doesn’t make it clear that the user should tap on the screen to add text, or that by sliding their finger left and right when picking a color to draw with that they can change the saturation of their selected color.

All in all, Snapchat is an interesting idea with questionable implementation and even more questionable usefulness. The idea of users sharing fleeting moments with one another that then disappear into nothing but memories is quite fun in theory, but frustrating and irritating in practice. There are much better solutions for friends to communicate with one another via mobile devices, leaving Snapchat feeling gimmicky and ultimately irrelevant.

Despite its flaws, Snapchat is performing well — it’s currently ranked at No. 12 in Top Free Apps and No. 3 in Top Free Photography apps in the iOS charts. You can follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.