If you’ve ever used Snapchat, you’ve probably watched one too many low resolution videos that don’t take up the entire screen of your phone. There’s a perfectly good reason for this: that particular user you were watching was probably using an old phone.
While mobile technology is always changing and many smart phone owners have the capability to record high-quality videos without even knowing it, high resolution 1080p and 4K video recording are only a fairly recent development (as in the last 4-5 years). Phones that support 1080p video playback are even newer. The ability to upload these high-res videos over cell towers only happened in the last couple of years. That’s why your friend’s videos on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and other services just started looking better only recently.
Yet not everyone upgrades their phone when the latest and greatest technology comes out, and no one knows this better than Snapchat. In the lead-up to becoming a publicly traded company, Snap Inc. claimed that the reason their seeing fewer and fewer users join their service is because of the continued and widespread use of old, cheap Android phones. While newer phones support high-resolution video and all the bells and whistles Snapchat offers, older phones or cheap phones with worse internal components are preventing their owners from getting the full experience.
Snapchat co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel believes low-end and old Android phones are preventing users from using the company’s newer feature, Snapchat Memories. During a company luncheon, Spiegel said that the company had to force half of its design team to work on Android instead of designing the app around the iPhone. Since there are only a few iPhone models and a thousand and one Android phones, designing Snapchat for each and every phone model is impossible, especially when many Android users are using outdated system software. While they’re trying to make the phone as usable as possible on every phone, Android users on old, cheap phones are getting a subpar experience…and turning away from the service as a result.
Is this really affecting Snapchat’s growth, and how can they fix it?
If you were to use Snapchat for the first time and it was a slow, buggy mess because of your phone, you wouldn’t go out and buy a new phone just to use the app. Instead, you would likely avoid using Snapchat again, and continue to think of it as a bad and buggy product.
Snapchat Memories, a feature that lets you save old snaps and videos, is just one of many features on Snapchat. While it might require more robust and newer hardware, Snap Inc. could certainly build a similar feature for those who have yet to upgrade their phone. They could also work to support old software updates (firmware), or make more of an effort to convince users to update their phones.
Yet old phones aren’t the only things Snap has to worry about. Instagram, Facebook, and other widely used services have incorporated Snapchat-like features into their apps. Personally, I use Instagram almost exclusively. More of my friends are on the service and any feature I find interesting about Snapchat is already baked into Instagram. Seeing as Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, and other services incorporating Snap-like features have millions more users than Snapchat, chances are I’m probably not alone.
If Snapchat wants to grow their users, they must do three important things:
First, they need to be able to support older and cheaper Android phones without crippling the user experience. While a video and image app is resource intensive, the company could possibly build a dumbed-down app that works on older phones. Spotify, Facebook, and other popular companies have done the same in the past.
Next, they need to have a compelling feature that makes users like myself keep using Snapchat. If every app has their own version of Snapchat built in and you already have that app on your phone, what’s the point of downloading another app that does the same thing? If Snap can introduce new features to keep existing users and lure new users in, they could certainly put a dent in Facebook and their competitors.
Finally, Snap Inc. needs to be more than “that Snapchat company.” Sure, the app is their main product, but by introducing new things like the Spectacles glasses that are a hit with consumers, the company could worry less about decreased growth if they have another product making money.
Snap Inc. will go public sometime in the next month. Whether or not you buy their stock is up to you, but one thing’s for sure: the company needs to find a way to bring customers in, and fast.