Snapchat has nailed mobile-native video

Scenes from Snapchat’s Discover feature.
Scenes from Snapchat’s Discover feature.
Image: Screenshots/Snapchat
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Give Snapchat credit for knowing its medium. Its new original video series, “Literally Can’t Even”—part of a new video and content effort called Discover—feels at home on an iPhone in a way few others do.

The show, starring Sasha Spielberg and Emily Goldwyn—two 20-something daughters of Hollywood legends—is perfect in the context of Snapchat. It’s short, fast-paced, funny, and simple. It’s precisely the sort of video “snack” someone might find amusing while standing in line or waiting for a friend to respond in the app. (Snapchat’s user-generated “Stories” are also turning out to be entertaining.) And in a nod to Snapchat’s disappearing messages, “Literally Can’t Even” episodes are only available for 24 hours, on weekends.

But the best part so far is its mobile-native format. It’s tightly edited with multiple camera angles, switching between fullscreen and split-screen views. The result is that it takes up the whole phone screen in “tallscreen” portrait mode—the way smartphones are most naturally held and the way most apps, including Snapchat, are used.

Literally Can't Even Screenshots
Scenes from episode 2: “Blind Dates”
Image: Screenshots

Video apps have long struggled with this reality. Many have forced people to turn their phones into landscape mode to watch fullscreen—an annoyance, especially if you have rotation lock turned on. Others, such as Vine and Instagram, use square videos as a screen size-versus-content compromise. But Snapchat has embraced its constraints creatively, knowing this show won’t be squeezed the wrong way onto widescreen TV sets.

To be sure, not all of Snapchat’s video looks this good. And most Discover partner video is still traditional, widescreen stuff—mostly repurposed video from TV or the web—that doesn’t look great with huge letterbox bars on the top and bottom. But it’s a start. Snapchat, by the way, declined Quartz’s requests for interviews and play-count stats.

Snapchat’s entry into mobile video comes as the industry is finally coming into its own—and is potentially poised to explode. About half of US iPhone subscribers watch video at least once a month on their phones, according to comScore, up from 23% in late 2009.

Google’s YouTube has been a part of the iPhone since the beginning, and is the de facto leader. Facebook has recently come on strong, integrating auto-play videos into its feeds, and boasts 3 billion video views per day, more than half of which are on mobile. But Snapchat is now one of the most popular smartphone apps, and seems to have a good handle on things. It could become a big player quickly.