There's no denying it - Snapchat is now one of the most important social networks in the world. Recent stats show that the ephemeral content app is now serving more than 150 million daily active users - that's more than Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest, and places it third in DAU behind only Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram. Snapchat users are also contributing more than 10 billion video views on the platform every day, and its latest funding round put the app's value at $20 billion.
Whether it's a platform you like and use yourself or not, there's no denying Snapchat's impact, and, in particular, its hold on younger audiences - Snapchat claims that over 60% of US 13 to 34 year-olds are users of their app.
Need more convincing? Check out this graph from the latest comScore report into digital traffic.
But while the app is huge right now, what's most interesting, and important, in a long-term growth sense, is the way the app's developing. Rather than just resting on its core functionality, Snapchat's working to develop its platform and evolve into something more, to become a bigger, more significant player in the social media space - and really, a bigger part of the media landscape in general.
On one hand, there's functionality - Snapchat's lead the way with various new initiatives that have gone on to become trends which have been adapted and adopted by other platforms - things like Lenses, disappearing content and image editing tools. The fact that Snapchat's been able to continually add new, industry-leading features (like video stickers, for example) is a testament to their understanding of their audience and their ability to see what's coming next, which is a strong sign for the app's future prospects.
On the other, there's the development of their more "grown up" options, like their Discover section for publisher content, which got a major upgrade earlier this week. As we've noted previously, Snapchat's ability to evolve their platform in line with the interests of their audience is important, as it'll ensure the app remains crucial, even as those younger users move into different stages of their lives.
Given Snapchat's capacity for evolution, it's worth paying attention to where they're looking and what they're working on next. As noted, Snapchat's shown it has a good sense of where audience interests lie, and what the next big trends might be.
And some of the app's latest moves definitely point to something big coming, sometime in the near future.
Back in March, reports indicated that Snapchat had acquired cartoon/emoji hybrid app Bitmoji. You know Bitmoji - BitStrips were huge on Facebook a few years back, with users creating simple comics out of themselves and their friends.
Bitstrips translated that early success into an app called Bitmoji which enables users to create a customized cartoon image of themselves, then put their likeness into a wide range of emoji responses.
The app's proven a winner, regularly ranking in the top 10 for utility apps and helping keep the company relevant, despite their initial offering in Bitstrips declining in popularity over time.
Now what Snapchat might want with Bitmoji is unclear, though they did recently unveil a significant update of their messaging platform, which included the addition of more than 200 new 'stickers' which can be inserted into your conversations.
Given the light-hearted, fun focus of Snapchat, Bitmoji probably fits perfectly into this application, though they weren't included in the initial release. And given that, maybe there's something more to it. You'd think if Snapchat was going to introduce Bitmoji, they'd likely want to give it a fresh spin, make it something new and original for their audience. Maybe they could use their Lenses face-scan tech, powered by Looksery, to create more accurate Bitmoji characters - that would definitely make it more interesting, a scanned and translated cartoon image of your face.
Definitely, Bitmoji's development team has been working on developing more accurate character models for some time, so such an advancement in their process would make some sense - but would it be enough to get Snapchat users interested in using them? Maybe a set of personalized emoji to use on your Snaps would work, or the ability to add cartoon depictions of yourself into real world images of you and your friends.
Either way, there are some interesting options that Snapchat's no doubt exploring - and that's not even the most interesting of their potential new projects.
Earlier this week, TechCrunch reported that Snapchat had made another acquisition, this time buying up computer vision start-up Seene. Seene has developed new technology that's able to map visual environments via your mobile device and re-create in 3D what you can see through the camera, without the need for additional hardware of processing.
Pretty amazing, right?
The opportunities with Seene go from the obvious - 3D selfies - to the more complex, like incorporating Seene tech with something like Bitstrips to enable users to put themselves into cartoons, similar to the example in the above video.
Another element of Seene that could also give Snapchat a boost is the ability to use the technology to create 3D photos. Take a look at this example and move your finger/cursor around the image to see it shift.
Again, pretty amazing - it's the same functionality as the selfie example, of course, but used in another context, which could also add something new to the Snapchat experience. Imagine being able to send your friends 3D Snaps to enhance your communications.
And then there's the next iteration of such technology, which Snapchat is also, reportedly, looking into - that being the development of their own smart glasses.
The Next Level
It was CNET who first reported that Snapchat was looking into developing its own smart glasses back in March. As part of their investigation, CNET uncovered a range of acquisitions and hirings which suggest that Snapchat has something along these lines in the works. Snapchat, for example, purchased Vergence Labs back in 2014, a company that makes cool-looking, Google Glass-like eyewear that records video of what the wearer sees.
Since then, Snapchat's also hired a former Microsoft recruiter who worked on that company's HoloLens headset and an eyewear designer who's previously created frames for Michael Kors, Innovega and Zac Posen.
And earlier this week, Business Insider reported that Snapchat has made some more new hires on this front:
"Among the latest additions to Snapchat are two hardware specialists from action camera maker GoPro, including a mechanical engineer, and the technical recruiter for Google's Project Aura, the group responsible for Google Glass."
In addition, Business Insider also noted that Snapchat has an open job posting for a 3D mobile software engineer, with requirements including:
- Bring the most innovative product concepts to life to help push the boundaries of mobile user experience and interface design across a new category of computer vision products
- Investigate and solve exciting and difficult challenges in image recognition, classification, and augmented reality
Clearly, there's something big underway at Snapchat HQ, but what, exactly, that is remains unclear. The evidence, however, does point to Snapchat making a hardware play - and really, it's not that hard to imagine seeing people walking around with bright, Snapchat yellow glasses on, uploading their day-to-day activities direct to their Live Story, right? That'd be a big, cool addition that would have pretty strong appeal amongst Snapchat's younger audience.
You know you'd buy them (rough mock-up made by me)
While the app's appeal is still lost on some, and it may be a platform that'll never resonate with everyone, the rise of Snapchat is undeniable. And what's even more important, Snapchat is expanding - these notes show that Snapchat's looking to the next big development, they're looking to evolve the app in various different ways. That's why investors are so keen on Snapchat - really, the app's barely put a foot wrong in terms of new developments and features, which shows that they know their audience, and they know how to consistently create in-demand products.
Snapchat might not be for you, you might not want to get involved. But the data shows that it's worth investigating. And if these new developments pay off, Snapchat could become significantly more important as time goes on.
It may be worth investing the time to get to know the app before it becomes too big, and generating audience traction becomes increasingly difficult.
UPDATE (6/18): Business Insider has reported that Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel was spotted wearing Snapchat's experimental smart glasses back in August 2015, so they may be further along in the development process than we think.