Taptalk is, dare I say, cooler than Snapchat.
Its interface is more confusing, its user base is smaller, and — it lets you send a photo even faster than today’s hottest photo chat app. That last part is important: Snapchat made sending photos so fast that with a fraction of its user base, the app saw more photos shared per day than Facebook, and Taptalk is bound to take photo-sharing a step further.
Taptalk, most simply, is a camera viewfinder above a grid of your friends’ faces. Tap on a face to send that person a photo. Tap and hold on a face to send that person a video. Like in Snapchat, you can caption a photo if you’d like. And that’s about it. There are no ticking timers, profiles, pull-to-refreshes, or navigation buttons.
Messages disappear once you’ve read them, but that’s not really the point. The point is to make sharing a photo or video as fast as physically possible. And I can’t imagine how anyone could make doing so any faster — without scanning your brain waves, at least.
Taptalk got its first break on Product Hunt, a new site beloved by the tech elite that aims to list the most interesting new websites and apps. This past week, Taptalk raised an undisclosed round of financing from SV Angel, one of the Valley’s top investors. The juiciest rumor, however, says that Facebook engineers are so enamored with Taptalk that they’re cloning some of its best elements for a new chat app of their own. All the while, the company’s Android app has fewer than 1,000 downloads and its iPhone app is yet to even crack the App Store’s Top 1000 most-downloaded apps.
Their app would only have one screen, and would be so simple it wouldn’t even need a send button
All signs, however, point to Taptalk hitting it big very, very soon. Why? Because Taptalk is no parlor trick. There’s some genuinely great thinking behind the app that primes it for success in today’s hottest app category. It all started with the small Berlin-based team’s desire to build a communication app that wasn’t a series of contact lists, message threads, and compose windows. Their app would only have one screen, and would be so simple it wouldn’t even need a send button.
"We wanted to make a messenger built from the ground up for a smartphone," says founder Onno Faber. His words echo the remarks of countless app makers, but Faber and company truly did start from the ground up. They didn’t even want to include a keyboard, let alone a send button. "The idea is to replace the old-style Nokia keyboard, and after that, the smartphone keyboard, with a one-button experience," says Faber. "The smartphone is capable of sending something meaningful in one tap."
"The smartphone is capable of sending something meaningful in one tap."
Faber says that most messaging apps, including even the visually distinct Snapchat, have all been cut from the same cloth — a cloth made of ideas and metaphors about how a messaging app should look. Snapchat went a long way towards rethinking how we chat by reversing the order in which we send messages: while most photo apps treat photos as attachments to be tacked on to your texts, Snapchat made sending a quick photo the first order of business upon opening the app. Taptalk makes sending a photo even simpler.
When you open the app, you immediately see a camera viewfinder, mimicking Snapchat’s trademark interface. But Taptalk also shows the people you can send a photo or video to below the viewfinder, using faces as send buttons. In other words, Taptalk combines the act of shooting and sending a photo in one tap. This means you need to be careful that you don’t tap the wrong person, because Taptalk includes no unsend button. Snapchat, meanwhile, asks you to tap a camera shutter button, then a Next button, then the name of a friend, and then finally the send button. By reducing the friction points of sending a message, Taptalk could further multiply the number of photos you might send per day. Speed, of course, is far from the only reason Snapchat has hit it big, but the most successful messaging apps have often been the speediest messaging apps.
The app emphasizes one-to-one messaging over group chatting or broadcasting
Faber won’t disclose the average number of photos each of its users send per day, but says that the number is very high. "When we were designing this, we thought that 100 photos a day shouldn’t be a problem," says Faber. "It’s not heavy like having 100 emails you have to work through." To that effect, Taptalk includes no message list to poke through. To read messages, you tap a small bubble over and over to flip through new messages. It’s a small but important detail, and another place where Taptalk reduces the number of taps it takes to do something. Taptalk’s user interface is undoubtedly confusing for new users, but Faber says it could lend to the app’s virality. "Most people are confused in the beginning, but the way people get on it is usually through a friend who explains how it works," he says. Snapchat’s interface is also intimidating from the outset, but seemingly hasn’t held back its growth at all.
But Taptalk’s user interface isn’t the only interesting idea here: the app emphasizes one-to-one messaging over group chatting or broadcasting like most communication apps. In fact, you can only keep 11 recent contacts in the app’s friend grid. Other friends are a swipe away. It’s a smart gamble by Faber and co., that perhaps most of us only chat with fewer than 11 people on a daily basis. And Taptalk’s messages can only be sent one-to-one, increasing the value of any message. A common critique of Snapchat is that when you receive a message, there’s no way to know if it was sent to you or also to 10 others.
When I spoke recently with Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel about the latest version of his app, he talked about how it eschewed traditional metaphors for placing and receiving calls in order to make video chat as simple as possible. By breaking down these metaphors, Spiegel says, we can become closer to the people we love. For sending a quick photo, Taptalk might be the closest we’ve yet come.