In the coming months, you may hear smatterings of hype about mobile apps that allow video messaging, or even get a video message yourself. This doesn’t mean face-to-face discussions in real time a la Skype, or the looping videos you see on social networks like Vine and Instagram. It’s short videos you record and send to a single person or a small group of contacts, quickly and seamlessly, instead of a text.
The current hot name in video messaging is Glide, which simultaneously records a selfie-video and broadcasts it to your friends by pinging them with a notification. Glide has 2 million active users and claims that 70% of all its video messages get picked up while being broadcast, before being answered back walkie-talkie style.
Others are getting in on the act: messaging-and-calling app Pinger (12 million active users) today launched a feature that lets users send video GIFs to one another, while in June Skype rolled out a new video messaging feature, and messaging app imo has started providing the service. International messaging giant WhatsApp launched a voice messaging feature on Monday and hinted that video might come one day too.
Many see this as just another evolutionary step for mobile communication and so-called over-the-top messaging apps that initially took SMS revenues away from carriers. Having deconstructed the way we communicate by getting us hunched over and texting more, these free services may now be bringing us back to the traditional act of using our voices and (gasp) even showing our faces when we reach out to someone over a carrier network.
“Video is something that’s just being cracked in mobile,” says Rajeev Chand, managing director of Rutberg & Co, a boutique investment bank. “It’s super intuitive. Who wouldn’t want to send a video message or have a video conversation with a family member or spouse or child?”
“It’s a natural evolution from text messaging,” says John Papandriopoulos, the developer behind SnappyCam, an app that recently hit the No. 1 spot Apple‘s App Store in five countries. SnappyCam takes a series of high-resolution shots to create a “living photo” that you can move back and forth with your finger, and he’s open to the idea of eventually allowing users to send and view each shot as a looping video. “There’s such a huge interest in animated GIFs for SnappyCam… Once I do that I’ll be able to share these living photos through text messages.”
The primary constraint of course is cost, and whether carriers can handle the bandwidth required for sending video files. Glide claims its app is optimized to low bandwidth constraints because it was first tested in Israel, where many mobile users are still on 3G.
Still, Chand says the so-called bucketed plans offered by carriers will need to increase in the coming years to accommodate the swelling data needs for uploading video. Video messaging is aiming to take off where multimedia messaging services, or MMS, didn’t. If it doesn’t already sound familiar, MMS was built as a standard way to send photos and videos over traditional carrier networks. One reason it failed: MMS was a pain to use.
“A second reason [was] interoperability,” says Chand. “In the early days each operator wanted to do his or own service for their own customers. As a result, who’s going to go onto a messaging service their friends aren’t on?”
This sort of approach illustrated how publicly-traded carriers like AT&T and Verizon struggled provide useful, innovative services to their customers. “Their mindset is different,” says Chand. “The first question they ask, when you talk about a new service, is ‘How am I going to make money?’
Roisman plans to keep Glide free and has yet to publicly clarify his monetization strategy, but says there could be a strong business case for a product like Glide to be sold to enterprise customers. In the mean time he will keep proving out the concept to consumers.
Rutberg estimates that venture capital firms have invested $1.7 billion in mobile video companies since 2005, and Chand expects the number to increase. “Video is a burgeoning space for mobile,” he says, adding that mobile represented 42% of all VC funding in the U.S. in 2012 and that share of the pie is only growing.
Glide has raised $2 million in seed funding, and co-founder Air Roisman was in Silicon Valley in late July to hold meetings with other potential investors. Having launched its beta version in late April it had already acquired 2 million monthly active users by July 29.
There was a some controversy over the way Glide got so many users so quickly: it was spamming users’ friends with automatic invites, a feature it has now removed. But the company’s retention rates look decent. A spokeswoman says that half of all Glide users use the app more than three times a day, and more than half also continue using the app after one month.
“It’s very popular among teens,” said Roisman during a demonstration of the app. Early acceptance of an app by teens and students is usually a strong indication of its future popularity — such was the case with Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook way back when, but Roisman could not provide figures to back up his claims on demographics.
I’ve used the app myself and for the most part it is a fun and seamless service, so long as the carrier connection is there. The bigger challenge for Roisman and Glide is that dominant messaging apps that are now years in the game, such as WhatsApp, LINE, KakaoTalk and WeChat, can also integrate video features like Glide’s into their platforms, instantly reaching hundreds of millions of active users.
Chand notes that ever since Instagram started offering its 130 million active users a one-tap video recording feature that mimicked that of mobile network Vine’s, usage on Vine (13 million registered users) has started to decline. “The biggest mistake for Vine is that it has remained a separate app,” says Chand, adding that he thinks it would be better off being integrated into Twitter. Twitter bought Vine in 2012.
Apps like Glide and SnappyCam may likewise need bigger partners if they wants to stay in the game. Carriers may have blown it with MMS, but the young and still-growing messaging giants may do a better job of integrating the video features we all end up using over the coming years.
Follow me on Twitter: @Parmy