About a year ago, Instagram launched a near identical version of one of Snapchat’s main features, Stories.
The new Instagram feature had the same name, a similar look, and the same premise: Friends could share photo and video updates on their profiles that would disappear after 24 hours.
The launch of Instagram Stories was just the beginning. Over the course of this past year, Instagram has added face filters, location tags, stickers, drawing tools, and disappearing photo messages in what has turned into a fierce competition between the two social apps.
But now, Instagram has eclipsed Snapchat in daily users. The Facebook-owned app announced in June that it had more than 250 million users creating Stories every day. More people are using Instagram Stories than the entirety of the Snapchat app, which had a total of 166 million daily users as of May.
As the battle wages on, one question remains: Which app is actually better? We decided to compare and contrast six core features that the two apps share to find out.
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The concept of ephemeral 'stories' was the first Snapchat product Instagram cloned, so it makes the most sense to start there.
In looking at Stories on both platforms, I compared both products from a holistic standpoint, rather than trying to compare individual features (like stickers, filters, and drawings). I cared more about the overall experience: Was the Stories feature easy to find within the app? Did it move from story to story smoothly? And did I finish watching stories feeling satisfied with the experience?
I like how Instagram Stories appear right at the top of the home screen. I see the new Stories as soon as I open the app, which entices me to open them before scrolling through my feed. The availability of them makes them more appealing.
The downside of Instagram Stories is the fact that they autoplay. Because people can see when you've viewed their story, this is a dangerous game Instagram is playing. What if you autoplay a frenemy's story? What if you accidentally watch your ex-boyfriend's story? This is a hazardous feature and makes watching Stories on Instagram more difficult.
Snapchat, mercifully, seems to have done away with autoplay for the time being (although Stories have autoplayed in the past, or you were given the option to add them to a queue). Having the option to pick and choose whose Story you want to watch is a perk, although it tends to make me much more selective than I would be on Instagram.
The major downside of Snapchat Stories is the fact that you have to swipe to the left to see them within the app. Plus, I'm not as motivated to open Snapchat just watch my friends' Stories, since there's nothing else to look at while I'm in there -- unless you count Discover which, quite frankly, I don't.
The user experiences of the stories themselves are almost identical. Photos and videos play through automatically, or you can tap the screen to move on to the next one. Tapping on the left side of the screen will rewind to the previous frame.
The only major difference between uploading content to either app is that Snapchat allows you to choose the length of time someone can view an image for, while Instagram does not.
For me, the extra swipe to get to the story, plus the lack of additional engaging content within Snapchat were major turn-offs.
Disappearing photo and video messages are Snapchat's bread and butter, and have been around much longer than Instagram's version. That said, older doesn't necessarily mean better.
Snapchat has the advantage of simplicity: You send a message, someone looks at it, and it's gone. Same goes for direct messaging: The conversation hangs around for a few messages, but if you close the conversation or quit the app, those messages will disappear as well. That's a huge plus, and what's made Snapchat so popular over the years.
That said, Snapchat's interface lacks sophistication. The colours are too garish, the typeface isn't stylish, and the varied bubbles and colours for different types of messages looks messy. Plus, for the life of me, I can't remember what the various symbols -- yellow heart, sunglasses emoji -- next to different conversations with friends even mean.
Instagram's direct messaging interface is one I use often to communicate with friends and family. I'll share posts I see around Instagram, send links to products I'm interested in, and reply to peoples' stories. The interface is beautiful and well-integrated with other aspects of the app.
That said, the direct messaging section of Instagram takes several swipes and clicks to navigate to. While Snapchat's is always just one or two swipes away, Instagram's is more hidden. Plus, the addition of disappearing messages feels like an unnecessary copycat move. Instagram seems like they're trying to make a full-service communication center, and I don't feel like I need it.
Sometimes you just can't beat simplicity.
Snapchat will forever be, as the kids say, the O.G. of face filters. They were the first to build them in a fun, easy-to-use way, and they remain the best at coming up with new and creative filters. I stand firm in my belief that face-swap is one of the most hilarious creations in Snapchat's history.
What puts Snapchat a cut above is the animations. The fact that the dog filter not only makes me look like a puppy, but also gives me a dog tongue that can make dog licking sounds is just as mind-blowing to me as it is to my 2-year-old niece. Snapchat understands that it's here to entertain and delight, which its face filters consistently accomplish.
Instagram is still new to the face filter game -- and it so blatantly copies Snapchat in this regard that it's almost embarrassing. And if we're doing an apples-to-apples comparison, Instagram's dog filter pales in comparison to Snapchat's.
What Instagram has to its advantage is its artistry and design prowess. While Snapchat has been accused of blatantly ripping off lesser-known artists' designs, Instagram is more original in -- most of -- its designs, and they're better rendered. Even the dog filter, which is a copycat, is more lifelike and nicer looking than Snapchat's -- it even has individual hairs. Overall, Instagram filters are less cartoonish.
Where things get tricky is with Instagram's and Snapchat's so-called 'pretty filters.' Snapchat is known for its filters that give you brighter, clearer skin, bigger eyes, and longer eyelashes. Its filters thin you out and take years off your skin with the click of a button. This is something Instagram appears to shy away from, but whether it's because the app is taking some ethical stance or because it doesn't have the technology is unclear.
In this particular case, it's up to user preference. For me, the momentary gratification of looking significantly prettier than I actually am is fun, but ultimately makes me feel silly and shallow. I prefer the more realistic picture that Instagram paints for me.
Despite Snapchat's flaws and questionable tendencies, the app remains the best in this particular category. While Instagram may soon catch up, it's firmly in second place for now.
This may seem like an in-the-weeds category, but it's one I use all the time on both apps, and is my favourite filter or sticker to employ.
The best thing about Instagram's location tag is how ridiculously easy it is to use. You slap it on your screen, tweak the size, angle, location, or even colour, then decide exactly what you want the location to say. That level of customisation is unparalleled, and it makes the user experience more fun.
For me personally, the location tag is one of my favourite ways to keep up with my friends, who are very far-flung, and to let them know what I'm up to. It may seem like a small, frivolous perk, but it's one of the best things about Instagram Stories.
Snapchat did the whole location thing first, and its initial attempts were just OK. The current iteration of the location filters are better, but they're also worse: Because people can now sponsor filters, you often have to scroll through several Sephora, Victoria's Secret, or Michael Kors filters to get to one that isn't branded.
Another major downside is that the location filters are typically huge, and you can't change their size or their location on your screen. Oftentimes I struggle to use them because they're covering up a crucial part of my photo. And while they're sometimes beautifully done -- the Manhattan filter is a particular favourite -- they're oftentimes tacky or overblown.
Stickers and photo filters are a prime example of quality over quantity.
With Instagram, you're only served a few filters and a handful of stickers. It's simple, well-designed, and to the point. That said, Instagram doesn't change up its sticker selection very frequently, and I've never seen anyone actually use that photo filter that's essentially just turns your photo the colours of Instagram's logo. This is an area where the app isn't really innovating, and there's room for improvement.
Snapchat's sticker and filter assortments are completely overwhelming. There are too many Bitmoji, too many emoji, and too many different types of sparkles. The photo filters are fine, but nothing to write home about.
To me, it seems like Snapchat has no rhyme or reason as to what stickers and filters it adds, making the photo editing tools haphazard at best -- convoluted and confusing at worst.
Do better, guys.
The ability to draw on photos receives its own separate category because the two apps handle it so differently -- specifically, Instagram is great, and Snapchat is basic.
Instagram's drawing tools are fantastic. The app offers three different types of pens in a wide array of colours, an eraser, and a rainbow marker. The tools are quick, responsive, and they make your handwriting look great, even if it's not.
The neon tool is the obvious winner in the category. The fact that you can make your handwriting look like a neon sign is incredibly cool, and the results are just plain beautiful.
Snapchat has changed next to nothing about its drawing tool since the app debuted. Case closed.
There is no Snapchat equivalent to Boomerang -- yet -- and it's one of Instagram's best features. Boomerang used to only exist in a standalone app, but Snapchat has since added it as a feature within the Instagram camera, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's one of the most-used features. It's fun, it's free-spirited, and it makes any videos you shoot look, well, cooler. Many an Instagram story would not have been possible without the powers of Boomerang.
Many of Snapchat's photo-editing tools are on the newer side, like the option to paint specific items in a photo a different colour, or to overlay something within the photo over a background after you've already shot the photo. Plus, the option to make a sticker out of anything can lead to some hilarious Snaps. These tools are fun to play around with, but make creating a single image a more time-consuming process.
Snapchat is unparalleled when it comes to using augmented reality. The app recently became internet famous for its dancing hot dog, and several of its other filters include the ability to place animations in the real world. No one else is doing this yet, and the results are both hilarious and impressive.
Snapchat fans probably won't want to hear it, but Instagram is doing many of the things Snapchat does -- and doing them better. Plus, Instagram has the added benefit of the fact that it was already running an entirely separate and successful enterprise before Snapchat came along. Anything else Instagram adds now is purely an extra advantage layered on top of its already massively successful app.
Instagram has a more sophisticated, forward-thinking design and user experience, and while it's lagging behind Snapchat in some areas, it's already proven itself worthy (if not better).
If there's one category Snapchat is consistently beating Instagram in, it's good, old-fashioned fun. Snapchat doesn't take itself too seriously and that shows in several facets of its app. Instagram could stand to benefit from loosening up its top button and adding a bit more whimsy and silliness into its platform.
But at the end of the day, the proof of a successful app is a basic one: How often it's being used. I open Instagram almost anytime I have downtime. Snapchat? In the past, it was hourly. These days? Once a week -- maybe.
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