It looks like Snapchat, acts like Snapchat, but it's not your favorite disappearing video app.  

This is Snow, the latest hot app from Asia, and here is what you need to know.

Launched in Asia in September 2015, Snow is a video chat app which is now available globally.

It has all the signs of being a smash hit with the selfie-obsessed generation, but there are a number of other things that digital marketers should know about it.

Here are five key points to get you started.

1) Snow is a lot like Snapchat

Snow is available like any other mobile app on both the Apple App Store and via Google Play.

In the app stores, Snow is described as a 'Selfie, Motion sticker, Fun camera', but it might as well be called 'Asia's Snapchat'.

Reason being that Snow has all of the basic features of Snapchat - like chat with disappearing photos and video - but it was developed and launched in Asia, initially.

Crucially, Snow features the photo and video lenses that everyone loves so much on Snapchat.

Some of these lenses are familiar...

..others are quite different...

and still others seem to push the current limits of selfie-taking.

Overall, though, the app is slick, its interface is intuitive and Snapchatters will find it very easy-to-use.

2) Snow is growing fast

Snow was only launched in September 2015, but as of July 2016 it has had 40m downloads. 

Though it's a bit early to discuss meaningful statistics such as user demographics and monthly active users (MAUs), its growth is phenomenal. It took Facebook over two years to have that many users.

3) Snow's parent company has big plans for the app

Snow was built by CampMobile which is currently a subsidiary of Korean firm Naver.

Naver is well-known to those in Asia as the company which built LINE, the main chat application in Japan with a big following in Thailand and Indonesia as well.

In a July 29th investor conference call, Naver said that it aims to spin off Snow so that the app might follow the path of LINE.

For those unfamiliar with LINE, it is a chat app originally built by Naver, but created for the Japanese market. LINE was subsequently spun off by Naver and LINE recently IPO'd in New York and Tokyo in July. LINE, on its own, is now worth over $6bn.

The reason LINE has been so successful is that it has crossed over from chat app to a platform with integrated services (taxi, grocery, etc.) and mobile payments. LINE also has 8m users who regularly buy stickers and 1.6m users who pay for LINE branded games.

Econsultancy subscribers can read more about LINE in our 2016 Japan Digital Report, but suffice it to say that Naver has already launched a very successful app platform and are looking to do it again with Snow.

4) Snow works in China, Snapchat does not

This is possibly the most important, yet under-reported, aspect of Snow.

The Chinese internet regulators have blocked Snapchat in China and so Snapchat's app does not work there. Snow, however, does work and so it is likely that it will take Snapchat's place in the country.

There is no consensus on why Snapchat has been blocked and Snow has not, but some speculate it is because Snapchat uses Google Cloud, which is blocked in China as well. Also, Snapchat may not be providing the access to data required by the Chinese government.

Regardless, if Snow gains traction in China then it will have access to hundreds of millions of users that Snapchat does not.

5) Snow is another sign that the West is not winning in China

Before Snow, Snapchat may have enjoyed a first-mover advantage in China for its disappearing video chat. Now, even if it is allowed by the Chinese regulator, Snapchat will be forced to compete feature-by-feature with a regional firm.

Recent events tell us that this is very bad for Snapchat. 

Looking at all of the Western vs. Chinese digital services showdowns recently, it seems that the Chinese firm wins every time.

  • For ecommerce, Alibaba and Tmall have taken the place of Amazon in China.
  • In search, Baidu now has 3 times the market share of Google in greater China.
  • And for taxis, Didi Chuxing just bought all of Uber China's assets effectively kicking them out of the country.

(For more on China's digital players, subscribers should have a look at Econsultancy's China Digital Report)

The narrative for each defeat seems to be similar. A US firm develops a new web service, proves that it has a viable business, and then, when it is launched in China, is beat out by a local firm.

Admittedly, Snow is not a Chinese firm and so it may suffer the same fate. But the fact that Snow is not blocked shows that the regulators in China prefer Naver to Snapchat for the time being.

So...

Snow is available for everyone now and it is a great app. 

Naturally, most Westerners will not have a large group of friends on the app network, but as a way to take new and interesting selfies, it's quite good and worth a download anyway.

In the longer term, however, it looks possible that Snow will be the preferred video chat app in Asia and so its worth getting to know and keeping an eye on.

Jeff Rajeck

Published 8 August, 2016 by Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck is the APAC Research Analyst for Econsultancy . You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.  

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