Clash of the Messaging Apps: WhatsApp Vs. Snapchat

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Clash of the Messaging Apps: WhatsApp Vs. Snapchat

WhatsApp and Snapchat are two of today’s biggest start-up-turned-sensation companies, enjoying huge popularity amongst the smartphone-savvy generation of today. Techspirited compares them in a head-on clash, to help determine which of these two messaging apps is better.

Did You Know?
According to a November 2013 report by the Wall Street Journal, the reigning social networking titan, Facebook, tried to acquire Snapchat for an overwhelming USD 3 billion, but the offer was rebuffed by the CEO and founder, Evan Spiegel, who stated that although Snapchat is accepting funding from venture capitalists, they are completely against a buyout.

There was a time when the term ‘social networking’ was synonymous with Facebook. Having a way to not only communicate, but also receive updated information about what is happening in the lives of the people we know, reading and commenting on their thoughts which had been made public, and browsing through their photographs; that was as good as the online representation of real life could get. But in today’s smartphone-and-tablet era, communicating with people ‘on-the-go’ has taken precedence over making the effort to share a part of your life for everyone to see. This has led to the development of dedicated purpose-centric applications in spite of the existence of those that integrate everything on one platform.

The ability to share photographs with the people we choose, and in the manner we choose, has a major role in shaping what social networking stands for today. What teens, college students, working professionals, and nowadays even the older crowd want, is to be able to keep in touch with select contacts (as opposed to a large number of acquaintances) in a simplified manner, any frills like registration, or entering passwords hindering them, and to carry out this communication in as few typed-out words as possible, instead probably sharing pictures, videos, sound clips, or digital documents. This is where apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat and the like have swooped in and broken the monopoly of the reigning monarchs of social networking.

Before we plunge into a face-off between two of today’s most popular social networking apps, it is important for us to take a look at each of these two; WhatsApp, and Snapchat, individually. However, if you are well-versed with how both work, click here to directly take a look at the one-on-one comparison of the two.

WhatsApp for Beginners
Founded by two former Yahoo! employees and based in Mountain View, California, WhatsApp started off as a revolutionary new chat application in 2009, which was truly unique because users didn’t have to get into the hassle of creating an official account, with a username and a password, or divulge any personal information; all they had to do was to register their active phone number, and the app would synchronize with their smartphone. Users never had to log in to the app, nor did they have to worry about being unreachable as long as internet connectivity was available for their phone. They did not even have to physically add contacts; the app would scourge through their phone’s contact list and automatically add any contact associated with a number registered on the app. WhatsApp also allowed patrons to send and receive images, videos, audio files, contact details of a person, or even the user’s instantaneous location (with the help of the GPS connectivity on the smartphone). Moreover, WhatsApp was as good as free; the only cost apart from the data usage charges of one’s internet connection was a rental of 99 cents, that too after the first year. Needless to say, its popularity escalated at an unprecedented rate.

WhatsApp came with a lot of handy features. Right from being notified if your messages are reaching the recipient, voice recognition on supported phones, to knowing if the person you are trying to contact is ‘online’ (meaning using the app at this very moment or not), and in case he or she isn’t, then the time at which he or she was ‘last seen’. In the years to come, sending voice messages became commonplace, with competing apps like Line and WeChat, marketing that feature. The developers of WhatsApp weren’t far behind; they added a tiny microphone icon to the right of the type-in text box, allowing users to record messages and send them instantly, as an optional substitute to typing. Also, camera integration was developed so that rather than clicking a picture, or shooting a video with the phone’s camera, and later attaching the media file to the IM, the user could complete the task directly from the app itself, and send it, and anyway it would be stored on the phone’s gallery for future viewing.

With support for every platform, be it iOS, Android, Blackberry OS, Windows, or even the archaic Symbian phones, and even on tablets, and PCs, it was possible for anyone and everyone to use WhatsApp, and it reached every corner of the world. The whole practice of sending and receiving SMS messages, which are charged on a per-message basis, in our daily life, has almost become obsolete because of it. In April 2014, the app was reported to have half a billion active users. Hence, in a matter of five years, this app became both the most popular, as well as the most indispensable one in our lives today. Social networking and media giant, Facebook, acquired the company for an overwhelming USD 19 billion in February 2014.

Snapchat for Beginners
With what seems like a very minimalistic user interface, and indeterminate icons next to names, at first glance, one may wonder if Snapchat could ever stand up to an app as phenomenal as WhatsApp, as a major competitor. For starters, Snapchat is also, essentially, a chat and media-sharing app, but with one original, previously-unseen twist; the transient nature of the media sent. In other words, the photographs or video clips sent on Snapchat cannot generally be stored on recipients’ devices, there is a fixed sender-defined time interval after which the picture/video gets deleted from the recipient’s phone as well as from Snapchat’s server (however, one can take a screen-shot of the message received). Sounds too good to be true? There is even more to come.

Snapchat nowadays also allows you to chat with text messages in the same ephemeral way, in the form of self-destructing chats once the chat session is over. The app provides the user information about IMs pending to be received from other contacts, as well as whether the person he or she is chatting with is currently active in that particular chat session, to help the user decide whether or not to end it. Video-chatting is also possible with this app, using a feature called ‘Here’.

Moreover, since the app is integrated with the camera, the pictures sent over Snapchat can be clicked at the time of sending itself, and one can even modify the picture before sending, in many ways; from adding finger-drawn doodles, and captions to the text, to making use of a variety of filters, both camera filters (to add a tint, sepia effect, and so on to the picture), as well as those that are location-based (to add more information), and the whole post is called a ‘snap’. A new feature (called ‘Stories’) allows you to share more than one picture (maybe an album of photographs) or video with a few, or all contacts, in such a way that it has a life of up to 24 hours.

If violation of personal privacy was a drawback of WhatsApp (with the tell-all display of when you were ‘last seen’), Snapchat takes every last shred of privacy and throws it out of the window. The sender has a record of who all he has sent messages to, when they were viewed by the recipient, whether they were replayed (Snapchat allows you to replay any one message per day), and whether the recipient took a screen-shot of the message. The CEO, founders, and other developers of Snapchat are well aware of the potential of their creation, and they seem disinclined to allow the company’s acquisition by any social networking giant, be it Facebook, or as the rumor goes, Google.

The Ultimate Face-Off
What’s Good:

  • Simplicity; a UI that is easy to understand and just the right number of features.
  • Never needing to add contacts, or update the synchronized contact list manually, ever.
  • Knowing whether the person you are chatting with is typing something, online, or has closed the app (from the ‘last seen’ time stamp), and also, being able to tell other users that you are ‘busy’, or ‘at work’ with your current public status.
  • The ability to access entire contacts, and to select, and send the required information in a WhatsApp-compatible format.
  • Never needing to type out an address again, thanks to the feature that allows you to send your location.
  • Being able to send and receive audio files, like songs.
  • The alternatives to chatting by physically typing; support for voice recognition by Google and others, or by being able to instantly record and send voice messages.
  • Support for the highest number of languages (apart from English, obviously).
  • No annoying advertisements, and no games to distract you from the purpose of the app; communication.

What’s Bad:

  • No VoIP support, and hence, any app that supports internet-based voice calling, in addition to chatting, and sharing media, such as Viber, Skype or Google Hangouts, is easily superior to it in terms of functionality.
  • Security and privacy concerns; with phone contacts being automatically added to WhatsApp without approval from the contacts themselves, by default anyone who knows your phone number can ‘stalk’ you using WhatsApp, right from knowing whenever you are online, to viewing your profile picture, and public status message.
  • Emoticons have become a thing of the past with major chat apps introducing ‘Stickers’; however, WhatsApp seems to expect its users to be content with miniscule pictograms that are not even animated.
  • No video-chatting, or even any kind of support to send an instantly-recorded video message.
  • The images that are instantly clicked and sent cannot be edited in any way from within the app before sending.

What’s Good:

  • As of now, downloading and using the app is absolutely free (apart from internet data charges levied by your network provider).
  • The benefits of ephemeral sharing; never having to worry about sending a picture to someone by mistake (as it will self-destruct anyway), and doing away with the fear of an embarrassing or incriminating snap falling into the hands of anyone except the intended recipient, or worse, being re-posted online.
  • Being notified when someone takes a screenshot of your snap.
  • The ease with which photographs and videos could be personalized using filters, the doodling tool, and captions. The snap can be optionally saved on one’s own phone before sending too.
  • Snapchat doubles as a video-chatting app too, and you can switch between the front and rear camera in the middle of a video chat session..
  • The endless potential for creativity with the ‘Stories’ feature; a series of snaps that have a life of 24 hours.
  • A lot of our favorite brands are using Snapchat now, from restaurant chains to media brands, and they use it to broadcast exclusive content to other users, that includes photos and videos of behind-the-scenes action, promos, and special offers.

What’s Bad:

  • The short-lived nature of text-chat sessions is a bane; it defeats the purpose of text-messaging because the entire exchange, except specifically saved messages, get cleared when the chat session is closed. It is also a gateway to many avenues of misuse (blackmail, for example).
  • Security concerns; the developers have admitted on their official blog that retrieval of deleted snaps is possible using certain software (like the kinds that are used to retrieve information from formatted hard disks). Also, on Android, snaps get saved in a temporary folder for a while. Glitches in the app while deleting snaps, and notifying senders about screenshots, are known to have occurred repeatedly in the past. Users are also vulnerable to hackers.
  • You cannot share audio files and voice messages using Snapchat.
  • Compatibility; Snapchat is not universal, it is only compatible with Android and iOS devices, and the video-chatting feature is only supported in devices running iOS 6 and above, or Android 4.0 and above.

The Outcome
This very interesting head-to-head between two absolutely brilliant apps, whose popularity continue to rise at this very instant, has made it quite difficult to pick a single winner, as the scores are almost neck-to-neck. Actually, to answer the question of which of the two is ‘better’, we need to ask ourselves the purpose of using these apps. For a satisfying communication experience, WhatsApp is far superior, and its design and features are such that it appeals to audiences of all ages. Also, there is little or no security threat involved with using it. It is the ideal solution to the communication needs of today’s fast-paced generation.

But Snapchat is no less. With a migration in the communication preferences of people today, towards something that is more discreet, as the threat of even a single mistakenly-sent photograph or video, ending up viral all over the internet is very real, there is no doubt why the trend of using Snapchat, which possesses the answer, has caught on so quickly.

However, the original premise of this app was less to provide a medium of communication, and more to provide a channel to share instantly-clicked pictures and videos ephemerally with friends; the update that allows text-based chatting was released as recently as May 2014, while WhatsApp has been offering users that luxury, coupled with media-sharing, since five years! And there are so many linchpins in Snapchat that can completely turn off users and make them want to shift to something more concrete; right from security issues, limitations of functionality, a very unfriendly UI, to having to bother with physically adding contacts and waiting for them to approve. Unmistakably, Snapchat does possess the potential to take on the pooled genius of Facebook’s, and WhatsApp’s developers in the future, but as of today, it is still in its nascent stages.

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