Well, the cat is out of the bag: Last week, leaked shots of a new Snapchat competitor called Bolt appeared in promo banners on Instagram, and on Tuesday Instagram officially launched Bolt in New Zealand, Singapore, and South Africa. This is Instagram's first spinoff app, joining the crowded space of visual messengers with notes that disappear. Bolt's international debut is available for both iOS and Android devices.
"Bolt is the fastest way to share an image or a video--just one tap to capture and send," said an Instagram spokesperson in an official statement. "We decided to start small with Bolt, in just a handful of countries, to make sure we can scale while maintaining a great experience. We expect to roll it out more widely soon."
Though we haven't had a chance to test Bolt ourselves, Instagram shared its lineup of features, which sounds a bit familiar. New users can sign up for Bolt with just their phone number, and it appears that Bolt and Instagram accounts will be kept separate. You can send friends a photo or video message, with or without a caption; if you opt for the no-caption option, Instagram promises that a single tap can both capture and send that message.
When you receive a Bolt message, you can reply directly by adding your own photo or text. You can also curate a list of "favorite" friends for even easier sharing--their faces appear on the bottom of your screen, and tapping on a profile pic will initiate a message to that friend.
And, of course, Bolt's messages can self-destruct: If you swipe away a message, it's gone for good. This gives users a bit more control--which Snapchat lacks--so you can look at a message a couple of times before you toss it away. I really like the sound of that feature: The "look once and it's gone forever" Snapchat approach doesn't always benefit users--especially if a message is particularly hilarious.
That's the gist of it. Bolt sounds pretty straightforward: Tap, share, reply, and delete messages when you want, with as few steps as possible. It doesn't seem to have any gimmicky features, like how Facebook's Slingshot requires you to sling a message back to view new posts. But I think that's a good thing: With past Instagram projects as an example, Bolt is sure to be a thoughtfully designed app, even if it isn't so creatively named.