Snap Is A Camera Company Because Text Is Dead
Human communications have done a complete reversal since the emergence of the smartphone. To prove it, let’s briefly review the history of how we communicate. We started communicating with hieroglyphics — pictures on cave walls. That allowed us to share experiences and knowledge with those that came after us, letting humanity evolve at a faster rate. But drawings could only convey so many meanings and needed interpretation, so we developed a written language with standardized symbols for the phonetic sounds of our spoken words — text. Text let us pass down even more knowledge, nuanced knowledge, increasing our rate of evolution; however, writing things down was time consuming and limited in scale, so we developed the printing press. That let us share knowledge as fast as we could print books, increasing our rate of evolution even more. The printing press took us roughly to the Internet age when books and newspapers were no longer physical, but digital. And, yes, that increased our rate of evolution again, despite the quality of some of the content that came from digital media.
Then the smartphone came along. More than 2 billion people have a screen with access to all of the digital knowledge brought about by the Internet. Smartphones also give us a camera in our pockets all the time. Not just a camera, but a video camera. Because of the smartphone, text is no longer the path for humanity to accelerate its rate of evolution through communication. It’s hieroglyphics again. We go out of our way to use hieroglyphics to replace text in “text messages” through emojis. Pictures and videos convey more than words. And they’re more fun. It’s why Snap simply calls itself “a camera company.” Snapchat is built specifically for communicating with a camera, not with text, because they see the same future as us. It’s why they built Spectacles, a camera on your face without all the bells and whistles of full-blown augmented reality. Instagram’s mission is similar: a fun and quirky way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures. Not as broad as Snap’s, but maybe that’s why we haven’t seen Instagram move into wearables. In any case, Snapchat and Instagram are the new cave walls enabling rich, moving hieroglyphics.
The growth of Snapchat and Instagram indicate that the transition away from text is happening quickly. Leaked investor pitch data shows that Snapchat grew from 50 million daily active users (DAUs) to 150 million in about nine quarters (March-14 to June-16). We believe Instagram did the same thing in about six quarters and Facebook did it in about four quarters. Although neither picture-based platform is growing as fast as Facebook did in its heyday, we saw that teens already value Snapchat and Instagram over the older, text-based platforms of Twitter and Facebook. With Snapchat at over 150 million DAUs and Instagram at over 300 million, they still have plenty of runway to catch up to Facebook’s 1.1 billion DAUs.
As we move toward our vision of The Future Perfect, text will become even more marginalized because the computer interfaces of the future will cater for text even less than the small smartphone screen. If you’re using VR to immerse yourself in a new world, why would you take yourself out of that immersion to read a bunch of text? If you’re using AR to enhance the real world, why not just have graphical symbols and audio instructions as needed instead of having to scroll through menus of text that block a portion of your real world view?
Communication tools let us share experiences with others as content creators and experience what’s happening in the lives of others as content consumers. It’s true of drawings on cave walls, a written letter, a phone call, and a story on Snapchat. The tools have evolved full circle to bring us back to hieroglyphics, but the purpose has always been the same. We think the hieroglyph trend will be safe for a while. The camera will be an extremely important part of both VR and AR, so building social products around it is the best strategy to be relevant in social moving forward. It’s the evolution of the camera that will create the next big opportunity in communication and the next acceleration in human evolution.
Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.