Instagram and Snapchat have been locked in an “anything you can do, I can do better” war ever since the duo appeared on the social media scene around six years ago. The similarity of the two photo and video sharing apps was always going to make them competitors, but Instagram parent company Facebook’s decision to launch Instagram Stories in 2016 really set the feud ablaze.
The self-destroying collection of multimedia images was and remains so similar to Snapchat’s feature–they have the same name, for Pete’s sake–that it stands as one of the more blatant clones of the past decade. Now the duo is at it again. In April, Snapchat announced group video calling for its app. A few weeks later, Instagram did the same.
Instagram’s popularity has taken a huge toll on Snapchat’s financial prospects, so the latter has more to lose in this latest battle than the former. For users, however, competition should mean progress, leaving us with only one question to consider: video chat on Snapchat or Instagram–which looks more promising?
Instagram Video Chat
Instagram’s version of video calling has only been with us since the final week of June. VC Daily will bring you a full review shortly, but if you’ve got some early thoughts, feel free to contact us and let us know what you think. Rumors surfaced on the web a few months ago that Facebook was preparing the way for video chat, and lo and behold, Mark Zuckerberg himself confirmed it by making a formal presentation of the service at the recent F8 Developer Conference in San Jose–he thinks it’s going to be a “really big deal.”
The basics of Instagram group calling aren’t great. It’s a maximum of four to a call, the same small amount that didn’t thrill us when WhatsApp recently announced the same cap on its group video calls. Also, it’s a little tricky to launch a video call–you have to navigate through the Direct Messaging channel, rather than through a contact’s profile page, as has become standard elsewhere. Finally, once you do get your call up, things look very familiar, with the screen quartered into neat rectangles.
It does have one nice touch, though. You can minimize your video call and continue using other Instagram features without hanging up. Kik provides a very similar multitasking feature, and while the chat windows get painfully small, if Instagram can achieve the same functionality it’ll have a handy new toy for users who want to do more at one time than just video chat.
And things still might evolve even further. Zuckerberg also announced that the augmented reality tech of Facebook and other third-parties will eventually be made available within Instagram. And, when stablemate Facebook Messenger got the video chat treatment it included capacity for up to 50 video/audio callers at once, so we could still hope for more than four to a call somewhere down the road.
Snapchat’s video service is unlikely to be as adventurous with alternate realities, but it does have Instagram beat for sheer numbers.
Snapchat Video Chat
Snapchat rolled out its new group video chat service in early April, and while it can’t match Messenger for sheer numbers of possible video callers, it does allow a generous calling circle of up to 16 people, with 30 more listening in on audio. That’s pretty good for a smartphone-based app, especially since it divides the screen into Brady Bunch-style chat windows rather than stashing extra callers in tiny thumbnails along the bottom like Google Hangouts does, among others.
It’s packed with its signature filters, emojis, and masks, so you can rainbow vomit in response to your friend’s shocking news. The drawback, however, is image size. Once you cut a mobile screen into even a dozen pieces, your friends get very small indeed. Again, that’s better than losing people in a thumbnail lineup, but you’re not going to be able to appreciate your sister’s new eyeshadow at that scale.
Snapchat retains the simple, one-click video chat icons alongside contacts’ names to launch a video call, as is now common across social media apps. That simplicity will help the feature’s uptake…and Snapchat can use all the good reviews it can get after a disastrous user reaction to its recent update.
In fact, both these apps will be hoping group video chat provides a welcome distraction from their recent troubles.
The Verdict: Video Chat on Snapchat or Instagram?
Both Facebook and Snapchat would like users to erase the past six months or so from their collective minds. Zuckerberg’s giant may still rank as one of the Big 5 tech companies in the world, but his app faces serious trust issues with users following the Cambridge Analytica scandal–would you feel safe enough to share even more of yourself over a Facebook video chat?
Snapchat’s misstep was far less scandalous, but far more self-inflicted. Whereas Facebook was accused of not knowing what was going on with its data, Snapchat intentionally launched an update that users reviled. It split its Stories function in half, between public and private spheres, and inspired an 800,000-strong petition to put things back the way they were.
Maybe launching a colorful new group video feature will help Snapchat win back users and simultaneously pinch a few privacy-conscious Instagram devotees in the process?
As it stands, the Snapchat app looks good enough for social calling and it holds true to the company’s overall image. Instagram, however, has a strong track record of improving on all things Snap and eroding its rival’s user base in the process, just like it did with the better-designed streaming service Go Live.
On call numbers alone, Snapchat seems to have taken the early lead in the group video chat race for now, but as a general rule–and with the current ability to multitask and the promise of augmented reality–I’d be expecting Facebook to eventually win this war too.