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Yes, it’s real. After a few not-so-well-kept secrets snuck out of Facebook HQ, the Instagram team has officially unveiled its new standalone messaging app. It’s called Bolt.
Bolt is a photo-messaging app built in the same vein as Snapchat and Taptalk, which allows you to rapidly take and share photos with your friends. You simply frame your photo, add some text if you want and tap your friend’s avatar — the app quickly snaps and sends the shot, which the recipient can then view and swipe away or reply to.
Unlike Snapchat, there isn’t a countdown or the option to specify how long you would like the photo to be viewable for — it remains on the receiver’s phone until they swipe it away or reply. There also isn’t any form of send history, conversation stream or even filters — Bolt is built to be simple and fast, allowing you to snap and share with a single tap.
Instead of a worldwide launch, the Instagram team has decided to release Bolt in tiers. At this stage, it has only made the app available in three countries: New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa. Like WhatsApp, the app requires you to sign in with your phone number, which is also how it allows your friends to find you. It is available in those countries for iOS 7 and Android devices (Ice Cream Sandwich and up) from today.*
So, why those regions? Instagram told The Verge that the countries were chosen for their geographical diversity and existing Instagram communities. “We’re going to other regions soon, but are starting with handful of countries to make sure we can scale the experience,” a spokesperson said. “Instagram has 65 percent of its users overseas, so an international launch, while different, is actually not all that out of order with what we do.”
The release of Bolt comes weeks after Facebook (which owns Instagram) launched its own ephemeral messaging app called Slingshot, after a failed acquisition of Snapchat last year. If you do the math, that means that Facebook now owns four messaging apps — its own standalone Messenger, Slingshot, Instagram’s Bolt, and mega cross-platform messaging app WhatsApp.
*While we were able to download the Android version, Bolt doesn’t seem to be accessible by iOS devices in South Africa as yet.