WhatsApp, the chat application owned by Facebook and used monthly by 1.2 billion people, is adding a built-in camera to let people take photos or videos, and send them directly to their contacts or add them to a “status” update similar to Snapchat’s “stories” feature.
It’s the latest example of a Facebook app building the tools popularized by its younger rival, owned by Snap Inc. Facebook’s Instagram, for example, now has 150 million people using its version of stories, launched in August. WhatsApp’s version is being released the same week that Snap begins its road show to tout its stock ahead of a March initial public offering.
Still, WhatsApp doesn’t see its move as threatening any other social networks.
Snapchat’s way of sending photo and video messages “is a format that is being established and being changed and being improved upon by a lot of people in the space,” said Randall Sarafa, a product manager for WhatsApp, in an interview. “We’re bringing this format into WhatsApp and giving it a bit of the WhatsApp flavor that we know, which touches on reliability, security, and personal sharing.”
In the early days of messaging apps, developers would try different tactics for their designs until the industry settled on what a group message should look like, or what it should look like when a message is received, Sarafa said. Snapchat has just pioneered a format that works well as people receive and send more photo and video.
In WhatsApp, the number of photos sent daily has doubled year over year to 3.3 billion, the company said. People send 760 million videos and 80 million GIFs daily. It was time to update the product to reflect the way people were using it, Sarafa said. WhatsApp actually started as an app for sharing statuses, before evolving into a messaging platform.
WhatsApp’s audience is far larger than Snapchat’s, which reported 158 million daily users in its filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in advance of the IPO. Facebook’s moves to copy Snapchat’s features have already raised concerns after Snapchat reported that user growth slowed in the most recent quarter.
WhatsApp said its new features will be tested in the Netherlands, France, and other countries before rolling out globally.