Best Apps of 2014: Snapchat’s lead could self-destruct just like their photos

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Snapchat has a huge teen user population, with the median age of users at 18 years old. It was one of the fastest growing apps last year, but not without newsworthy headlines.

The Top 10 Mobile apps of 2014 were released by Time, rated by popularity and promise. Snapchat snagged the number one spot, but will it be able to keep up its key user experience as more third party apps disrupt that experience?

Snapchat is a mobile application that offers users the ability to send pictures to their friends that “expire” after a certain amount of time. This feature and the ability to target specific friends rather than post to a network differentiates Snapchat from Instagram, another popular photo-sharing application. However, as discussed later in this post, Snapchat’s “expiration” of photos is not entirely secure – third party apps and screenshots allow pictures to be saved without the sender’s consent.

As a first time user, you have to set up an account with Snapchat. The app initially opens with a bright yellow screen and the Snapchat logo, which appears to be a ghost of some kind. The ghost figure might possibly be mirroring the concept of your picture being a “ghost,” since it destructs after being opened. Yellow tends to draw the eye, therefore the yellow background actually takes focus away from your options: LOG IN or SIGN UP.


Opening Screen of Snapchat


If you need to sign up for an account, you must first verify your identity and birthday (unclear within the app if there is an age requirement for use. However, a little digging online reveals that users must be at least 13 years old to use the app. After you do that, you must create a username and verify your phone number. Snapchat sends a text to your phone with a code that expires in 60 seconds. This may add a bit of panic to the user’s experience because sometimes a text does not show up immediately, depending on the cell phone carrier and service strength.


Creating a username



Verify phone number screen

The app then prompts the user to allow the app to use their contact list. The key information that a user would want to know is if the app is going to “spam or auto-add” their friends. However, this text is not prominently displayed to ensure trust with the user. For additional visibility and credibility, this information should be more conspicuous – with a higher contrast level than the other text, a bigger text size, or a different color. Lastly, this screen does not offer a choice to the user – they must press continue to move further along in the set-up process.



Prompt to allow Snapchat to use contact list.

After pressing continue, the app does provide the user an option to block the use of their contact list, as shown below.


Option to allow or block Snapchat’s use of contacts.

If you press “OK,” Snapchat shows you the entire list of your contacts, without making current user’s conspicuous. Unlike Venmo – which shows current users in a different color, all contacts in Snapchat are listed in the same color and format, the only indication being their username in place of phone number under their name. Without a change in color or size, this information takes much longer to process. Snapchat should consider utilizing some differentiator for current users so that you can pre-attentively process and group your contacts together based on the color, size, or font.

After setting up your account and contacts, you are taken to the app where you must allow snapchat to use your camera and microphone to take photos and videos.


Permissions for camera and microphone

The meat of the app is the photo/video exchange with friends. However, the features are not explained through embedded learning, therefore some features are hard to figure out, which can lead to the user feeling frustrated or underserved by the options available.


Features displayed around the picture.

To ensure that the features are recognized by the user no matter what is in their photo screen, the features are displayed as white with black outline, the contrast key for distinguishing each icon.

The top options are easy: X to delete, T for adding text, and the crayon for color. However, there does not seem to be an option to change the color or size of text. If you click the “T” multiple times, you are allowed two additional options for text format/size, but no change in color. As this option is unclear to the user and only found if explicitly told or the feature is stumbled upon, this is considered a hidden affordance. The crayon icon reveals color, but does not change the text color.

The bottom icons reveal an option to set the “expiration timer,” which looks a bit like a clock so it is a decent metaphor. The second icon, the arrow down with a line underneath, is actually an option to save, which is not explicit enough to a user. The next icon, the box with a “+” is meant to be an option that includes text, which Snapchat calls a “story,” but their language and long explanations are actually burdensome to the user, as shown in the screenshot below:


What does this mean?

This explanation is actually quite confusing because they are using their own Snapchat language, that may not align to the user’s mental model of social media or mobile apps.

That is why, it is important to innovate in a way that is known as “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable,” which essentially means that technology should not innovate so far that the user has trouble learning it because it does not align with things that are familiar to them.

Additional Points to Consider:  

Snapchat has a huge teen user population, with the median age of users at 18 years old. It was one of the fastest growing apps last year, but not without some newsworthy headlines. Their photos were hacked, photos of illicit/dangerous behavior have been in the news, rumors swirled of an option to send Snapchat confessionals to a priest online, a teen enraged over Snapchat committed murder, just to name a few news stories related to the popular app.

Snapchat offers the advantage of private messaging pictures, videos, or text, that expires within a specified time period after the message has been opened. However, the “expiration” piece does not account for screenshots, where a picture can live on a person’s phone for much longer than a user might want. In addition, some third party apps allow messages to be saved. As this photo destruction is one of the main offerings of Snapchat, the app needs to do more to ensure the safety and security of the user’s personal photos and videos.

In addition, Snapchat should integrate learning into the app for first time users and reduce the use of innovative language so that users can learn the app more efficiently and build an effective mental model so that the app meets their expectations when they use it.






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