More often than not South Africa gets left treading water in the backwaters when international services roll out new features in waves, but not this time. Without much fanfare, image- and video-sharing service Instagram has rolled out its instant messaging app, Bolt, for Android and iOS in only three regions: South Africa, New Zealand and Singapore.
Bolt requires a user’s mobile phone number during set up (much like WhatsApp) and will – if granted permission – search your phone’s contacts for other Bolt users. Despite Facebook owning Instagram, Bolt doesn’t include the option to login using Facebook, nor to add Facebook contacts. The app arranges four contact’s profile images along the bottom of the screen, though this can be expanded to up to 20 favourite contacts, which can be accessed via a swipe.
Tapping a contact sends them a picture, while holding down on their profile image allows users to record and send a video. Like Snapchat, sent images and videos disappear once the recipient has opened them and you can only shoot and send, rather than uploading an image or video from your mobile device’s gallery.
Users can only send an image or video to a single recipient, so sending the same content to more than one user requires capturing it again. Inadvertently send a Bolt, or send it to the wrong person? You can cancel it by shaking your phone within a few seconds of sending.
There’s also the option to overlay a Bolt with a short snippet of text, though this functionality is quite limited at launch with only white text and a single typeface on offer.
Instagram parent company Facebook launched its own self-destructing-imagery app called Slingshot last month, but unlike Bolt, Facebook’s effort focuses on enabling users to send content to multiple contacts, rather than just one.
Other rivals in the space include Taptalk, which has failed to gain much traction and doesn’t have the advantage of Instagram’s enormous existing user base, which will likely see Bolt promoted in their Instagram feeds, and Mirage – the new app from the company behind one-word messaging service Yo.
Of course, it’s worth remembering that when Instagram launched it was by no means the only apply-filters-to-images-and-share-them app on the market. What Instagram managed to do (much like Apple with its hardware) is take an existing idea and wrap it in a user-friendly and visually appealing package. But, unlike Instagram, Bolt has a running start straight out of the gates.