Snapchat vs. Insta: the billion-dollar war over photo filters
SNAPCHAT'S April Fool's Day prank cut straight to the bone this year.
While others joked about smart gnomes and swimming desks, the network known for real-time photo filters created one about its fiercest rival.
The filter made photos appear as if they'd been shared on Instagram ... and liked by your mother and just two other people.
The shade-filled gesture not only poked fun at Instagram's older audience but its seemingly desperate attempts to mimic everything Snapchat creates.
Over the past year, Instagram and Facebook have aggressively copied the most popular parts of Snapchat, creating a bizarre augmented-reality filter war, with sponsorships, users, and the ability to digitally spew rainbows at stake.
But it's a war that Instagram appears to be winning, at a cost of billions of dollars, and Facebook could be the next big beneficiary.
The high-stakes photo war began in August last year when Instagram launched Stories: quirky, throwaway photos that would disappear after 24 hours, and to which users could add text, scribbles, stickers, or geolocation filters.
Of course, it all sounded familiar to Snapchat users who had been doing the very same thing inside its app for more than a year.
Even Instagram chief executive Kevin Systrom admitted Snapchat "deserve all the credit" for the selfdestructing image feature.
"This isn't about who invented something," he explained. "This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it."
Clearly, Instagram is happy with how it's turned the feature around. The company recently revealed its copycat addition boasts 200 million daily active users - more than Snapchat's entire daily active user base of 165 million.
The addition of Instagram Stories also helped the social network to attract 100 million members in four months - its fastest-ever growth - and reach 700 million active accounts.
In a statement, Instagram credited its growth to better connecting "people with their friends" and simplifying the sign-up process, but there's little question that its snappy new features played a large role.
And Snapchat-inspired photo filters are not confined to Instagram either. Its parent company, Facebook, launched disappearing photos in Messenger last October, and has now added playful augmented reality filters to its main mobile app.
Users can swipe to the left of Facebook's newsfeed to find a camera with paint-splattered filters, virtual glitter beards, and sponsored additions from the likes of Wonder Woman, Minion, and Smurf movies.
The competition is clearly hurting Snapchat, prompting Mizuho Securities analysts Neil Doshi and San Phan to compare the social network to Yahoo and AOL rather than big tech firms like Google and Facebook.
"At the heart of Snapchat is a messaging app," the analysts wrote, "and the company faces very stiff competition in that segment based on our assessment."
Plus, one of the world's biggest tech firms is joining the filter battle: Apple.
The iPhone maker launched an app called Clips that adds filters, stickers, and even captions to video in real-time, before letting users edit and share the results on social media.
Prominent Apple analyst Gene Munster said the company wasn't serious about taking on Instagram or Snapchat yet, and simply wanted to ensure it was investing in popular technology.
"If you really dig into this Clips, it's more about them working with filters and augmented reality," he says.
"Longer term, the significance of augmented reality for Apple is having a place at the table in the future of computing, which will shift to AR."