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This article was published on July 30, 2014

Hands on with Bolt, Instagram’s Snapchat competitor

Hands on with Bolt, Instagram’s Snapchat competitor
Owen Williams
Story by

Owen Williams

Former TNW employee

Owen was a reporter for TNW based in Amsterdam, now a full-time freelance writer and consultant helping technology companies make their word Owen was a reporter for TNW based in Amsterdam, now a full-time freelance writer and consultant helping technology companies make their words friendlier. In his spare time he codes, writes newsletters and cycles around the city.

Instagram Bolt launched today with a catch; you have to be in New Zealand, South Africa or Singapore to install. An unusual rollout strategy, but it’s the first time I’ve ever been in one of the first countries for an app like this!

Bolt’s premise is pretty similar to Snapchat: send images to your friends with very low friction. After a pretty simple signup process (that makes sure you’re in a launch country by requiring your phone number) and asking you to take a selfie for your profile photo, you’re thrown straight into the camera.


From there, it’s as simple as taking a quick snap by tapping someone’s photo at the bottom to send it to them. Instead of making you take a photo and then select your friends, your friends’ faces are actually the shutter button. It’s so easy that the first time I did it, I didn’t realize it was actually already gone.

Just like in Snapchat, you can write on your photos, but there’s no drawing on them and the writing must be done before you tap a friend’s face, otherwise it’s already gone. It’s actually a lot easier to use than Snapchat but I’ve been trained by Snapchat to take photo first, then edit, so it took a while to adjust to.


An interesting problem with only launching in a handful of countries is that you probably won’t have any friends using this for a while, which means it’s pretty much useless until they join.


When you receive a Bolt, it appears at the top of the camera screen and you can reply in one of two ways: text on top of the image you just received or with a new image. Alternatively, you can swipe it away which destroys the image instantly as opposed to saving it for later, but there’s no time limit on how long you can view photos for and you can minimize them to save for later. It’s ephemeral, but you choose when to destroy them.

This makes for an interesting dynamic; on Snapchat, I receive a lot of snaps of random stuff just so my friends can reply, but with this feature you can actually have a conversation without taking pointless photos.


There’s a pretty big problem with Bolt, though; you can invite friends only via SMS so if you want to add someone you only know from online, you’ll have to ask for their phone numbers. Bolt checks if any of your contacts are using the app already and recommends them to you, though.


Bolt isn’t connected to Instagram at all and doesn’t seem to have the facility to import friends from there or have a username for easy adding. This alone is probably the most frustrating part of Bolt; who even uses phone numbers anymore?

I like the idea of Bolt and it seems like an interesting idea, but not having the ability to quickly check who on Instagram uses it is a bit disappointing and makes it harder to get friends using it. That said, the app itself is incredibly well designed and easy to use unlike Snapchat, which can be a little overwhelming at times.

It’s certainly more entertaining and less work than Facebook’s Slingshot and the ability to actually hold a conversation without having to send pointless photos is nice, but I’m not sure Bolt is compelling enough to convince people to shift away from Snapchat just yet.

 Bolt for iOS | Android [New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa only]