Snapchat is finally admitting that its app is hard to use if you’re not 14. Even in its most basic version — before Snapchat became “Snap Inc.” and got into AR and hardware and maps and restaurant reservations and television — the closed platform wasn’t the most user-friendly. Beloved by younger users and feared by parents convinced their spawn were just using the app to send nudes — they weren’t, probably — the earliest iteration was a combination of unfamiliar swiping motions, puzzlingly ephemeral content, and offered no way to find other users on the platform. (It’s gotten slightly better, but only slightly.) That was just the way Snapchat worked. And if that didn’t work for you … too bad.
Except, as it turns out, that model hasn’t been working for Snap either. In an earnings letter to Snap investors today, CEO Evan Spiegel announced that the app is getting a major overhaul citing “years” of complaints that Snapchat is “difficult to understand or hard to use.” Spiegel also noted a “strong likelihood” the changes will be, at least for a little while, “disruptive” to Snapchat’s business. “We’re willing to take that risk for what we believe are substantial long-term benefits to our business.”
Overhauling Snapchat likely isn’t so much about improving the user experience as it is Snapchat trying to ensure its user base keeps using the app at all. Today’s letter also revealed the company has been losing money, a lot of it, since going public. In 2017, Snapchat’s third-quarter net losses rang in at $443.2 million compared to 2016’s $124.2 million. And Spectacles, Snapchat’s much-hyped smart glasses first released in limited number via mysterious vending machines, wound up a loss for the company, too. Snapchat significantly overestimated demand for its first piece of hardware and took a $39.9 million bath for it, according to today’s report.
This leaves Snapchat, not even a year post-IPO, scrambling to change the very core of the business model it sold on Wall Street back in March. A move which could alienate the app’s most loyal users: the teenagers who aren’t down with Instagram and Facebook’s habit of cribbing straight from Spiegel’s app and wear mastering Snap’s learning curve as a badge of honor. Plus, changing things up doesn’t necessarily mean everybody else will come running to Snapchat either. While teens call BS, other older users have been more than happy to take up with Instagram and Facebook’s streamlined and user-friendly clones. Ostensibly those users are already plenty comfortable there, so Snapchat has its work cut out for it.