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.
Test No. 1: Stories
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.
Test No. 2: Direct messaging
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 colors are too garish, the typeface isn’t stylish, and the varied bubbles and colors 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.