Snapchat’s Redesign Brings Self-Destruction Into the Mobile Messaging Wars

The Snapchat app at the social media startup’s headquarters in Los Angeles on Jan. 31, 2013 Photograph by J. Emilio Flores/The New York Times via Redux

Snapchat is the undisputed people’s champ of smartphone peep shows, but the app with the self-destructing images wants to be so much more.

On Thursday the Los Angeles-based startup unveiled a major redesign that reflects its growing ambitions in the increasingly competitive world of mobile messaging. The details came out in a “snap” sent to its users: Now, in addition to those infamous photos timed to vanish seconds after viewing, Snapchat communications will include similarly ephemeral instant messages and real-time video chat.

In an interview with the New York Times, Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel explained that the changes are intended to deepen the interactions between users. “Messaging apps are focused on the number of types of content that you can send,” he said. “We are focused on what you are sending and how. … This is really what we think mobile conversations should be.”

The revamped Snapchat will compete with an expanding field of companies hoping to emerge as the primary service organizing how friends communicate with one another on their smartphones. It’s an arena that’s grown more and more crowded in recent months. WeChat, the mobile messaging service owned by Chinese giant Tencent, is among the app rivals stepping up efforts to win over U.S. users.

Snapchat’s dramatic overhaul also comes on the heels of Facebook’s $19 billion acquisition of mobile messaging startup WhatsApp. The new format will further escalate Snapchat’s growing rivalry with Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, who has twice tried and failed to subsume Snapchat into his company’s portfolio.

“[U]ntil today, we felt that Snapchat was missing an important part of conversation: presence,” the company noted on its official blog. “There’s nothing like knowing you have the full attention of your friend while you’re chatting.” Whatever else it achieves, Snapchat’s new look is perfectly calibrated to grab the full attention of its rivals.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.