WhatsApp could put the brakes on Snapchat’s international growth with today’s launch of WhatsApp Status, a new tab for sharing decorated photos, videos and GIFs that disappear after 24 hours. It’s another Facebook-owned Snapchat Stories copycat, but the twist is that it’s end-to-end encrypted like WhatsApp messaging.
WhatsApp tested the feature for beta users in November, and now the Status tab is rolling out worldwide on iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Users can watch updates from friends and reply privately, shoot and adorn their imagery with drawings and captions and send their creations to all their contacts they’ve chosen with a persistent privacy setting. Sending media to specific friends is still done through message threads.
Status could also open up new advertising opportunities for WhatsApp. If it followed Snap and Instagram’s lead, it could insert full-screen ads in-between friends’ Statuses.
Instagram was bold enough to stick Stories in its main tab above its feed, while WhatsApp is burying Status a lot more in a separate tab. But Status has the opportunity to spread the Stories slideshow format to parts of South America, Eastern Europe and the developing world, where Snapchat doesn’t have strong traction yet. If these users aren’t already on Snapchat, they won’t even see Status as a clone.
WhatsApp had been positioned as few-frills utilitarian chat while Facebook Messenger sported all the bells and whistles. But late last year, WhatsApp adapted to the visual communication age with the launch of additional camera features. Now the question is whether WhatsApp can eat some of Snapchat’s lunch abroad without watering down its core product.
Now WhatsApp has 1.2 billion monthly users, with users sending 60 billion messages per day, including 3.3 billion photos, 760 million videos and 80 million GIFs. WhatsApp is parleying this success in messaging back into broadcast social media in a way that could spell trouble for Snapchat. If WhatsApp Status takes off, it could hinder Snap’s global growth opportunity in user-generated content, forcing it to rely on squeezing more cash out of existing users, or earning more revenue from hardware or professional content.