Can Facebook beat Snapchat to its future growth markets?
Facebook is launching another Snapchat clone, a standalone ephemeral picture and video messaging app — complete with face-distorting masks — that looks almost identical to Snapchat.
But this time Facebook is trying something different: Its new app, Flash, was built by Facebook’s growth team specifically for emerging markets where Wi-Fi is scarce and connectivity is weak. Facebook boasts that Flash is “less than 25 MB” in size, or roughly one third as big as Snapchat’s Android app on Google’s new Pixel phone.
(Facebook’s core app, for comparison, was 54 MB on the same phone, though app sizes usually differ by device and software version.)
Regardless, this much is clear: Facebook is trying to beat Snapchat to emerging markets, where it doesn’t already have a stranglehold on potential users. Facebook may not be able to win over American teens this late in the game — Snapchat already has 60 million daily users in the U.S. and Canada. But what about those in Brazil? Or Indonesia? Or India?
If teenagers in Brazil can get a lightweight version of Snapchat (Flash) that doesn’t take up much data or storage, perhaps they won’t need Snapchat at all. At least that’s Facebook’s hope.
It’s an interesting strategy. Flash launched late Tuesday on Android in its first market, Brazil, and Facebook has plans to bring it to other markets, but hasn’t yet decided where (or just won’t share that info publicly), according to Product Manager George Wang.
But its clear the company is gunning for Snapchat, even if Facebook won’t say it quite so bluntly.
Instead, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has hinted at the company’s Snapchat envy by commenting on the success of Snapchat-inspired products like Stories or opening the app directly into the camera versus, say, a user feed, which has been Snapchat’s calling card since launch.
“In most social apps today, a text box is still the default way we share,” Zuckerberg said on the company’s earnings call last week. “Soon, we believe a camera will be the main way that we share.”
Zuckerberg is clearly trying to cut Snapchat off on all sides — it’s testing camera-first features in Facebook’s core app, copied Snapchat Stories inside of Instagram, and now it’s racing Snapchat to emerging markets, where Facebook has already proven it knows how to grow a user base.
It’s been fascinating to watch Zuckerberg’s assault on Snapchat unfold. When Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel turned down Zuckerberg’s $3 billion acquisition attempt almost four years ago, he recalled Facebook changing the iconic Like button on the sign in front of its headquarters to the logo of its original Snapchat “killer,” Poke.
“It was basically like, ‘We’re going to crush you,’” Spiegel told Forbes. That feeling clearly hasn’t disappeared.