It seems like every other day that someone announces another Snapchat clone. Facebook had Poke, then Slingshot. Both failed. Path redesigned their chat app to be more ephemeral in nature. Instagram launched Instagram Direct for private sharing and is even testing a new private photo sharing app called Bolt.
Why is everyone trying to be Snapchat and why is Snapchat still ahead of the game. I’d like to argue that Snapchat has a secret sauce. Here’s why:
1. Snaps are Super Expressive
You can share photos and videos with lots of apps, so what makes Snapchat so special? The answer is that a snap is not just a photo. By allowing users to add text, apply filters and draw on their photos and videos, Snapchat offers their users a way to be both highly creative and super expressive. Now when you combine this with the ephemeral nature of Snapchat, you create a way for users to share moments, big or small, in a way that is more natural than most other social networks.
Now if you compare Snapchat to some of it’s “competitors”, you’ll see that they haven’t perfected this perfect balance of expressiveness and ephemerality. Poke was just a pure clone of Snapchat with none of the coolness factor. Slingshot arguably comes close but requires an awkward sling to unlock mechanic. Bolt emphasises speed over creativity. Most other ephemeral apps are using the feature as a gimmick. And Instagram Direct just doesn’t allow users to be expressive enough. You can only do so much with Instagram’s selection of filters which is why people have started editing their photos in 3rd party apps like VSCO CAM.
Also, Instagram is just not a private social network. Like Twitter, you want as many people to see, like and comment on your photos while getting as many followers as possible. Instagram is one of the fasted growing and most exciting social networks at the moment. Why they want to be Snapchat instead of Instagram is something I just don’t get.
2. Snapchat has made smarter product decisions
You don’t often hear Snapchat announce new features but when they do, they are often well thought out, make the product better and receive overwhelmingly positive feedback. Some examples of such features include Snapchat Stories, Our Stories and Snapchat Chat. Snapchat Chat is particularly great and does an excellent job at keeping users in the app for longer.
If we look at (or pick on) Instagram, they’ve made a number of product announcements this year. Adding advanced photo editing features and redesigning the app to be more usable in emerging markets were great moves. Launching Instagram Direct, using Facebook Places instead of Foursquare for location data and even launching Bolt seem more misguided.
3. Snapchat is finding cool ways to monetise
Every social network faces the challenge of increasing the number of its users while making as much money as possible. This often involves making the service attractive to brands and by selling users to advertisers. Services have to get this just right because users don’t want to be spammed.
Snapchat is reportedly looking at alternative ways to monetise so that they don’t alienate their audience of “cool kids who use Snapchat”. Snapchat is doing their best to make the service more brand friendly while avoiding monetising through ads (because ads are lame). Some of their ideas include sponsored events (like EDC), sponsored geofilters and even a mobile payments service. If they can get this right, then Snapchat has an even brighter future than initially anticipated.
SnapScan is an award-winning and locally-developed app that allows customers and merchants to complete transactions by scanning a QR code on a customer’s smartphone and confirmed with an SMS sent to the merchant. And yesterday, it was officially launched into the South African market by Standard Bank.
Credit needs to be given to both developers FireID and Standard Bank for making SnapScan as open as possible. Whether you are a consumer or a merchant, you don’t need to be a Standard Bank customer to use the service. SnapScan is also completely free for consumers and the only cost to merchants is a 3% fee on each transaction.
There are no other costs for merchants to register and start using SnapScan which makes it extremely attractive to both formal and informal merchants. In South Africa, this addresses a real problem for smaller merchants who may not be able to afford the cost of setting up a POS machine combined with interrupted or unreliable connectivity.
Signing up as a merchant can be done on the SnapScan website and is quick and easy. Hopefully more and more merchants do so as the success of the service will ultimately depend on whether it catches on with local merchants.
The service has already signed on a number of merchants at local craft markets such as Neighbour Goods. This is great news for merchants as well as customers like me. From personal experience, I always run out of cash at these types of places and spend more time bumbling about like a cash-less idiot than I do enjoying craft beer and Balkan Burgers.
FireID has worked hard to make the service and the app as simple and as easy to use as possible. Once you download the app, you add the details of your credit or debit card, enter your name and you are good to go. To make a payment, all you have to do is:
- Scan a merchant’s QR code at their point of sale
- Type in the transaction amount
- Enter your unique SnapScan PIN
I tested the service by paying for some Coffee at Motherland and the whole process took less than 30 seconds. It was weird not paying with actual money or a card but it was one of those magical moments when you feel like you are living in a futuristic science fiction movie.
The app also has a Find Merchant feature that let’s you search for nearby places that use SnapScan. This feature has a lot of potential, especially once more merchants sign on. In addition to being a payment app, it could also help you find new interesting places and provide merchants with an additional way to attract customers.
SnapScan is a well-designed, simple and easy to use service for both consumers and merchants. The service has a lot of potential and the developers have already hinted at some exciting future plans, including being able to use SnapScan for online payments. It’s great to see something like SnapScan developed locally. Let’s hope local merchants and consumers take advantage of it.
- Locally developed
- Great platform for merchants and consumers
- Use it no matter where you bank
- Simple, slick and easy to use
- Makes you feel like you are living in the future
- May take some time for more merchants to sign up
8 out of 10
Find out more about SnapScan and / or become a SnapScan merchant at www.getsnapscan.com and download the SnapScan app for your smartphone.
by Adam Skikne
Tech experts have predicted that smart watches are going to be the breakout product categories of 2014. The first smart watches are now available to consumers with the next generation being shown off at CES 2014. But what is it like to use a smart watch, what should they do and should you buy one? I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the Sony SmartWatch 2 to review.
Design and Hardware:
The design of the Sony SmartWatch 2 is quite impressive. With its square face, rounded corners and chamfered edges, the Sony SmartWatch 2 is a sleek device with a premium feel. It was definitely noticed when it was on my wrist and the majority of people who saw it became quite curious when they found out that it was a smart watch. So basically you can safely wear it in public without worrying if you look like an idiot.
Perhaps the most important feature of the SmartWatch 2 is its screen. And while the screen is bigger and brighter than the one found in the original Sony SmartWatch, I did wish it had a slightly higher resolution. Despite this, the SmartWatch 2’s screen is usable in most lighting conditions (including outdoors in bright sunlight) and manages to always stay on while conserving battery.
Battery life on the SmartWatch 2 is another plus. When I first unboxed the SmartWatch 2, its battery was about 65% full but still lasted me a good three days before needing to be recharged. The SmartWatch 2 charges via a micro USB cable which is quite convenient. It should be noted that the SmartWatch 2 is also water resistant. So if you ever wanted to check Twitter while you’re in the shower, this is the device for you.
Setting up the SmartWatch 2 is relatively simple as it pairs with any Android phone running Jellybean and above through NFC or Bluetooth. Unfortunately the Smart Watch 2 is not compatible with iOS devices. Once the devices have been paired, you are prompted to download the Sony Smart Connect app on your phone. The app allows you to find, link and control a number of other apps that have been specifically designed for the SmartWatch 2.
Through the Smart Connect app, the SmartWatch 2 can be linked to your phonebook, dialer, music player, SMS messages, Twitter, Facebook and various fitness apps like Endomondo and Runtastic. There are roughly 300 additional apps that you can be downloaded for the SmartWatch 2. The majority of these apps are lightweight and free but there are a few apps that offer very similar functionality. Still, these apps add additional functionality to the SmartWatch 2.
Using the SmartWatch 2:
The experience of using the SmartWatch 2 will vary based on your expectations of what a smart watch should do. Smart watches are set to become an increasingly important product category in the next few years but it is still a product category that needs to be better defined by device manufacturers.
The interface of the SmartWatch 2 should be familiar to anyone who has used an Android phone. You can swipe through installed apps and the SmartWatch 2 even has the standard back, home and options buttons found on most Android devices.
The SmartWatch 2 primarily acts as second screen that allows you to view notifications on your wrist and perform basic tasks like controlling your music without the need for taking your smartphone out of your pocket. The notifications that pop up on your wrist can make it easier to spend less time looking at your phone, which is good. However, it’s very easy to become inundated with notifications depending on which services you link with the SmartWatch 2. Messages and social media updates can be problematic but the settings for these apps can also be tweaked to improve the experience.
There are a few snags. The SmartWatch 2 does well with text based notifications but struggles with updates or emails that are image heavy. Your wrist will ring when you get a phone call but you can’t answer the call or speak into the watch. These are not faults per se but maybe just missed opportunities. I have no doubt that these features and capabilities will be included in either future iterations of the Sony SmartWatch. You can already find them in competing products like the Samsung Galaxy Gear but at a slightly higher price point.
The smart watch is a product category that currently doesn’t have mainstream appeal but this is will likely change over the next year or so. If you are an early adopter or love the idea of smart watches, then the Sony SmartWatch 2 is a definite contender. It is well designed, compatible with a wide range of Android phones and is supported by a number of specially designed third party apps.
On the spectrum of available smart watches that are currently available, I would say that the SmartWatch 2 fits in between the Pebble and the Samsung Galaxy Gear in terms of price, battery life, device compatibility, build quality and apps. If you are in the market for a smartwatch, I would recommend that you look into these three products and see which one suits you best based on your individual needs.
Final Score: 6.5 out of 10
I got my Sony SmartWatch 2 review unit from the fine folk at the Orange Online store. They stock the Sony SmartWatch 2 (available from R1995.00) as well as the Pebble Smartwatch and the Samsung Galaxy Gear. If you enjoyed the review or are in the market for a smart watch, feel free to visit them at http://store.orange.com/za/p_orange_home.aspx
by Adam Skikne
1. What is Snapchat?
Snapchat is an app that allows you to share pictures and short videos that delete themselves after 10 seconds. You can also draw or write on your pictures. It’s more fun than it sounds.
2. That sounds stupid. Why would people use Snapchat?
Young folk are getting tired of the fact that everything you do or say online sticks around forever. Sometimes, you just want to share something and not have it recorded until the end of time.
3. Is this the app everyone uses for sexting?
Apparently but not really. I get a decent amount of snaps from friends everyday. So far, not a single sext. But if you do want to sext (am I using that word correctly?) you can add me: adamskikne
4. Can’t people just screengrab your snaps?
Yes, but it’s cool. Some snaps are just too awesome not to save. Plus you get a notification when someone screengrabs your snap. So you know if you need to start panicking.
5. Why is everyone talking about Snapchat?
Facebook reportedly offered $3 billion to acquire Snapchat. Facebook got turned down.
Google reportedly offered $4 billion to acquire Snapchat. Google got turned down.
6. That’s crazy. How many people are on Snapchat?
It’s tough to say. Snapchat isn’t confirming the total number of active users.
7. Ok…so why the billion dollar offers?
There are more snaps sent each day than the number of photos loaded onto Facebook.
8. Should Facebook be worried?
Facebook shouldn’t be worried about Snapchat per se. Facebook should be worried that young people think that Facebook is boring and aren’t using it as much as they used to.
9. Is Snapchat worth billions of dollars?
Probably not. They haven’t figured out a way to make money and people are very fickle when it comes to the next hot app. Plus a lot of their metrics are very misleading at the moment.
10. Can brands use Snapchat?
Yes and no. Seriously, this is taking way longer than 10 seconds. I guess you could use Snapchat’s relatively new Story feature to create a feed of pictures and videos that live for 24 hours before deleting themself. I’m sure Snapchat is probably looking at new features specifically for brands. To be safe, just stick to Facebook and Twitter and quit trying to look smarter than you really are by trying to find “the next big thing” in social media.
*No turtles were harmed in the making of this post
by Adam Skikne
We’ve often heard that Africa is the next big opportunity for businesses and brands. We also heard that social and mobile are two factors that are going to shape the way that business is conducted in Africa. So with this in mind, I thought it might be worthwhile to try shed some light on how how Africa accesses Facebook, the world’s largest social network, on mobile.
It sounds like a simple question but the answer is a bit more complicated. We should all know that there are a number of social and economic factors that make each African country unique in their own right. But through data from Facebook, we may be able to shed some light on the current mobile landscape in Africa and make some predictions about how it will change in the next few years.
If you look at Africa as a whole, there are over 77 million Facebook users with over 51 million users who access the service on mobile. It is interesting to note that the ratio of Android to Blackberry devices in Africa is over 2:1 – (although this may include Android tablets). But this only provides a broader picture, so for your convenience, I’ve broken down the data for the five largest countries in Africa, based on the number of mobile users (a full PDF of all the data for 50 African countries can be found at the bottom of the page)
87% of Nigerian Facebookers access the social network from mobile devices. 68% of these mobile users use feature phones while another 18% use BlackBerries.
2. South Africa
93% of South African Facebookers access the social network from mobile devices. 47% of these mobile users access Facebook through a feature phone while another 30% use BlackBerry devices.
FUN FACT: Egypt has the largest number of Facebook users in Africa but only the third highest number of mobile users. 45% of Egyptians use feature phones to access Facebook with another 38% using Android devices.
Only 55% of Moroccan Facebookers access the social network on mobile. 39% of these users do so on feature phones while 37% of users use Android devices. It shouldn’t be long before the most popular way to access Facebook on mobile is on an Android device.
85% of Kenyan Facebookers access the social network on mobile. Like Nigeria, a large percentage of these users (71%) do so on feature phones. Unlike Nigeria and South Africa, the next most popular platform is Android.
Some General Observations from the Data:
- Feature phones are still king
- Android’s market share is gowing in a number of a of African countries
- BlackBerry is still prevelant but only in a select number of markets
- iOS has found a niche in a number of markets but is not widely used
- Microsoft should quit now or start making Android devices
A Note on the Data:
All of the data used in this post was sourced directly from Facebook’s Advertising Tool. To the best of my knowledge, all of the above data is as accurate as possible at the time of originally publishing this post. If there is an error in the data, it may be my fault (please let me know if you find something wrong). If I was not at fault, then Facebook was drunk. You can find a full PDF of the data here. If you would like it in an editable spreadsheet, please let me know and I will gladly supply it.
I have tried my best to not be misleading with the data in this post. You are free to reuse any of the figures in this article but please do so in context – this is important to make both you and myself seem less stupid.
Over the past few years, most smartphone manufacturers have been engaged in a specs war in an effort to differentiate themselves in a highly competitive market. With each new launch, smartphones has become thinner, lighter and faster. But while smartphones have become more powerful, they haven’t necessarily become smarter.
Two weeks ago, Motorola officially unveiled the Moto X, the first new smartphone that the company has developed since being acquired by Google in 2011. And while some have criticised the Moto X for shipping with what they consider to be “mid range” specs, Motorola is betting their success on providing customers with a smarter user experience.
This smarter experience is powered by the Motorola X8 Mobile Computing System, an 8 core processor that has two cores dedicated to natural language and contextual computing. This allows the Moto X to always be listening for a specific phrase (in this case, the incredibly catchy “Ok Google Now”) that activates Touchless Control.
Through Touchless Control, the Moto X benefits from deep integration with Google Now – one of the smartest and most useful of Google’s services that will soon be baked into the Chrome browser and Google Glass. Without even touching the phone, Moto X owners will be able to make phone calls, send messages, ask questions, perform web searches, navigate and so much more.
Like most smartphones, the Moto X also features a number of contextual sensors. It will know when it’s in your pocket and when you might be able to see the screen so that it can show you subtle notifications. It knows when you are driving and will automatically alert you to incoming calls and read new messages – all through Touchless Control.
What makes the Moto X so special is that it is able to power these various sensors and processes in a highly efficient way. Motorola claims the Moto X offers 24 hours of battery life…which is pretty impressive if these claims are true.
Another aspect of the Moto X that Motorola has focused on is customisation. Consumers will be able to customise their Moto X by choosing from a wide range of colours for the back plates and accents of the phone. Later in the year, Motorola will even be offering a variety wooden options to choose from.
Many have seen this focus on customisation as a move to appeal to average consumers and not just spec-obsessed Android nerds. This is actually pretty ironic, as Touchless Control is probably geekier than anything you’ll find on other Android phones like the Samsung S4 and the HTC One.
While the Moto X is not a perfect phone, I’m incredibly excited to see how Motorola will progress with their future products. Personally, I’ll be shocked if the next Nexus smartphone isn’t a Motorola device that sports similar features to the Moto X.
Specs will always be important, but currently there is no shortage of great smartphones on the market. Manufacturers might use software to differentiate their products but this will be harder than it sounds. For example, the majority of the added software features on the Samsung Galaxy S4 clutter up the phone, while the software features on the Moto X are minimal and could be genuinely useful.
The smartest bet for manufacturers moving forward might just be focusing on building smarter smartphones.