The photo-sharing, Facebook-owned social network Instagram quietly unveiled “Bolt” last Tuesday, a new messaging app that allows users to send short-lived photo and video messages from mobile devices for iOS and Android.
As of the meantime, Bolt can only be used in New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa country. “We’re going to other regions soon, but are starting with handful of countries to make sure we can scale the experience,” a spokesperson for Instagram tells the Verge.
Instagram service is the answer to similar apps like Snapchat, which has a smaller but much more active user base (500 million snaps versus 60 million Instagrams per day), and even Slingshot, which is also owned by Facebook.
Bolt logic is pretty similar to Snapchat: Simple signup process requires your phone number to make sure you’re in a launch country and asking for your selfie profile photo straight from your camera and send images to your friends with very low friction.
The app makes it easier to send a photo or video to a friend, which then disappears once it’s been read. Bolt is essentially a carbon copy of buzzy messaging app Taptalk, although a lot prettier. Tap on a friend’s face to send a photo instantly, or a long-press on their face to send a video and shake your phone to undo an accidental Bolt.
Just like in Snapchat, you can write on your photos, but there’s no drawing on them and the writing must be done before you tap a friend’s face, otherwise it’s already gone.
On Bolt, you can only share to one person at a time and have to re-shoot to send to more and there are no uploading shots from your camera roll. A few buttons at the top let you switch the selfie mode, turn on your flash, or overlay big white text similar to Snapchat.
There’s a pretty big problem with Bolt, though; you can invite friends only via SMS so if you want to add someone you only know from online, you’ll have to ask for their phone numbers. Bolt checks if any of your contacts are using the app already and recommends them to you to add them on your list.
Bolt isn’t connected to Instagram, it don’t have the ability to import friends and a username for easy adding. This alone is probably the most frustrating part of Bolt; who even uses phone numbers anymore?
Bolt might be useful for people who constantly sends photo message with just their spouse or best friends. Based from the screenshare demo I got, it does seem a bit fun because it’s so lightweight and fast but It does have one powerful weapon to fight competitors. Instagram will be promoting Bolt app with in-app banner.
It seems that Bolt has made its way to the States and already finding itself in a heap of drama. The drama ultimately won’t matter. However, if Bolt is genuinely useful to millions of people and Instagram certainly hopes it will be. “This isn’t a side project” and “We are totally behind this thing.” said the Instagram spokesperson.