Snapchat got a bit more useful today with the release of two new features: the ability to chat with your friends in real time via text, and video.
This is great news for power users. Anyone who spends enough time communicating with friends on the app knows that switching to another avenue for some good, old-fashioned texting is a chore. Say you send a snap to an old college roommate, and it sparks some nostalgic image-swapping. There’s no need to switch to iMessage to continue that conversation or to schedule a Skype date. The app allows for the kind of spontaneous conversation that feels natural, a point that Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel drove home in an interview with The New York Times. “If I’m walking around and want to show you something, why do I have to switch apps?” he said. “It stops the conversation and makes it a transaction, rather than free-flowing.”
Yes, free-flowing conversation. That’s the sweet spot. But despite what Spiegel says, these tools are not exactly intuitive. Here’s a quick run-through of how to use them:
1. Make sure your Snapchat app is up to date and open it. If you have any snaps that you haven’t viewed yet, look at them. A friend of mine says she lost a few in the update. (RIP, snaps.)
You might have a message from Snapchat about the update, but that doesn’t mean you have the update itself! The feature is being rolled out slowly, so try to be patient. You’ll know if it’s available for you if, at the end of your promotional snap, it instructs you to Tap twice to upgrade. If you do, you’ll be brought to the App Store. Go ahead and get the updated app.
2. Once you’ve updated, visit your contacts. Anyone who has sent you a text has a blue chat bubble next to his name. To view the conversation, swipe right.
3. From there you’ll see your special room. It uses the same in-app symbols to show when someone has opened or screenshotted your snaps.
If you’d like to save a particular sentence within a chat you opened, tap it. The text in question will be highlighted in gray, and the font will change.
Otherwise, if you leave and return, the text will be gone.
Now you see it:
Now you don’t:
4. Whether you’re able to live chat, via video or text, depends on the button above your keyboard. When it’s yellow, that means you and your snapbuddy don’t have the app open at the same time, or that you aren’t both connected to WiFi.
Whenever the button is yellow, you can either send a snap with text on it by tapping the yellow button, or just text by tapping the “send” button at the bottom of your screen.
5. When it’s blue, however, that’s when you can video chat. To do that, you and your friend must hold your fingers down on the button.
6. That’s when a bubble will pop up on the screen. Look! You’re in it. Aren’t we having fun?!
7. Once the other person has connected, your screen will look something like this:
While video chatting, your phone’s camera automatically faces toward you. But when you screenshot, it switches to the back camera. (As you can see in the reflection on his glasses, my colleague Daniel’s view of my face remains the same.)
To stay in video chat, you must keep your finger on the bubble. However, you can drag it wherever you like on the screen. You’re also able to flip to the back camera by swiping up or down quickly.
The video quality was a little sketchy between our two WiFi connections, which is probably why Speigel told The Times that when developing this tool, his team focused on maintaining audio quality first and foremost.
But the most annoying part of communicating via Snapchat video was that I kept forgetting to keep my finger on the screen. The result was that our conversation was interrupted quite often, intermittently cutting out when one of us absentmindedly took our finger off the trigger. That is far from “free-flowing” conversation. But I can see how this would be useful for showing people things. Body parts or otherwise.