Snapchat is slowly adding features on top of its highly successful ephemeral messaging platform. Today’s two new features are a good old chat interface and a new FaceTime-like video calling feature. Text messages could greatly change the nature of the app.
While ephemeral photos are a great way to send something funny and start a conversation with your friends, many users sent multiple snaps back and forth just to chat. You ended up taking a crappy photo and adding a caption. The fact that it was ephemeral and limited when it comes to the number of characters were quite charming, but sometimes infuriating.
But all of this is past now. You can swipe right on a friend’s name in your Snapchat inbox to enter a new chat screen. It’s a regular chatting interface. You can write and send text messages, send snaps, and send photos or videos from your camera roll. Alas, you won’t find any sticker.
But there is a new button as well at the bottom of the screen. Whenever it turns blue, it means that he or she is currently in the chat screen, reading your messages. If you hit the button, you will start a call. If the other person hits the button too, you will see both ends of the calls at the same time.
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Just like when you see a snap, you need to maintain your finger on the screen to keep the video call active on your end. Below your finger, you will see a thumbnail of your camera. The rest of the screen is filled with your friend’s face. You can remove your thumb, and you will only see your friend without sharing your camera.
If you want to switch from your front-facing camera to the back camera, all you need to do is drag your thumb to the upper half of the screen. The camera will automatically switch. These interface refinements are why Snapchat has been a very effective messaging app.
When you are done with your call and chat, you can go back to your inbox. Whenever you do this, your chat history will be erased, staying true to the ephemeral nature of Snapchat. You can however tap on individual messages to save them for later.
Getting into text chat is a major move for Snapchat. Many competitors, such as Ansa, tried to make Snapchat for text messages happen with various levels of success. It remains to be confirmed whether Snapchat’s user base will appreciate these new features. Snapchat is no longer just a service to send quirky selfies.
The update hasn’t hit the Play Store or the App Store yet — it should be available later today. To start chatting, you will probably need to communicate with someone who updated the app already, so it can take a few weeks before you can use the new features with your favorite contacts.