Yahoo is taking another crack at the crowded messenger market with Livetext, a strange video chat app currently available only in the Hong Kong iTunes Store. Yahoo describes the new app, which was first spotted by TechCrunch, as "the most natural way to have REAL conversations," promising that the app will make you "feel like your friends are right there with you." It tries to accomplish this by allowing you to share silent video of yourself with a friend, while typing your thoughts in text that pops up over the video. So... perhaps not the most natural way to have real conversations after all.
Yahoo's once-popular desktop messaging app, Yahoo Messenger, was left behind after the rise of mobile apps led to new giants like WhatsApp, Hangouts, and Facebook Messenger. Yahoo moved slowly in updating Messenger for mobile devices; it was the only major app Marissa Mayer didn't overhaul after becoming CEO, and it was ultimately removed from the App Store. Livetext looks like an effort to build a messaging app that will resonate with a younger audience, though not including the audio portion of the video call seems counterintuitive.
The release notes say audio is "rarely convenient in today's fast-paced world" (what?), a line that just seems like Livetext it trying too hard to set itself apart.
The app — which is "free forever" — uses your cell phone's Wi-Fi or data connection to start one-on-one conversations. You initiate conversations by texting a friend, and the video begins immediately upon the recipient entering the chat. To share a thought, you type it into the text box and watch it pop up on your screen over the video. We imagine it might be like having a muted Skype call, with text.
The app was quietly released on the Hong Kong iTunes Store on July 11th, but has yet to come to the United States. It's likely Yahoo will make a bigger, splashier announcement once the app is ready to be released worldwide. "We're always experimenting with new product experiences that delight our users," a Yahoo spokeswoman said in an email. "We have nothing further to share at this time."