Let it first be said that Snapchat isn’t exactly suffering for its various security-based shortcomings: As of last month, the photo-sharing app that lets users decide how many seconds (up to 10) their “snaps” are visible for was tracking more than 60 million images sent a day.
But there is still — potentially — room to compete against Snapchat, if developers can find a way to model an app after its best qualities while addressing its worst — or at least its most troublesome. That the most famous previous attempt, a near carbon-copy called “Poke,” was made by Facebook and still failed to take off is an indicator, though, that the Snapchat formula isn’t an easy one to replicate. There would need to be something more.
This is where the creators of iDelete argue their app fits in. It couldn’t be clearer that they had Snapchat very much in mind when designing their product: The app’s homepage features a slightly dimmer, grungier version of Snapchat’s brightly lit, joyful blonde teen girls, almost like the Snapchat girls grew up and one of them dyed her hair brown and they started wearing edgier bracelets. (Also different: The iDelete girls don’t have phones with a mirror function on their cameras. They are old-fashioned.)
But unlike Snapchat, the “teen-ness” of iDelete starts and ends with its pictures of teen girls (their iTunes page shows a couple more sucking on lollipops, texting “wish you were here” to a boy — or man, I guess — called “John Smith”). There is no cutesy (if somewhat inexplicable) ghost logo with its tongue sticking out. There is a red word bubble overlaid with a white one, a black “x” struck through the center. The motto is equally to the point: “this message will Self-Destruct.”
Neither is the app itself particularly pretty to look at: There is no bright blue button with which to take one’s sexts (or innocent pictures of crazy faces, whatever it may be), nor is there an inbox that organizes one’s incoming messages alongside pictures of ghosts popping out of boxes. iDelete is extremely spartan, probably to a fault. (In an email to BuzzFeed, iDelete creator Zohar Krivorot told us there are plans to address the more aesthetic shortcomings of the app, adding a “drawing” ability plus a video option within 30 days.) The inbox clears once you’ve looked at any messages you might have there — a feature that’s good for security purposes but which eliminates the game-y factor that makes Snapchat fun.
Then there is the fact that sending an image via iDelete looks no different than sending an ordinary picture text would. The screen is the same, but so is the address bar — iDelete requires that users know their recipients’ phone numbers rather than utilizing a username-based system, a design that Krivorot told BuzzFeed is about privacy: “Being phone number–driven allows for better privacy since it is a unique identifier. Essentially, we operate in a similar fashion to the SMS format which we feel is more secure, and provide control over which contacts you can send/receive from your contacts list.”
And being in iDelete feels a little like being in a room marked “Secret Files” you broke into in the middle of the night: First, you must sign in each and every time you use it (even if you left it open and are reentering from your lock screen) with a pin number you choose when you first download the app. And when you receive a message from someone who has enabled screenshot protection, you are only able to view a little bit of it at a time; pictures come in blurred, and holding your finger to the screen reveals a cleared “window” into the shot about the size of a penny. (Users who send photos without enabling screenshot protection might have their entire photos screenshot, just as with Snapchat.) You’ll never see the whole picture at once. With certain kinds of photos, this feature could make the experience feel rather voyeuristic.
A test, using a photograph of some sexy cough drops.
Additionally, users who attempt to take a screenshot of a photo from someone who has enabled the screenshot protection feature — and, to be clear, that is in no way made impossible by this app — can only ever reveal the penny-sized portion of the photo made visible by the screenshot-taker’s finger. I don’t want to say that that makes it impossible to capture identifiable sexts (there are depths of field and, uh, contortions under which it might still happen), but it definitely makes capturing anything damnable more difficult than it is with Snapchat. (You do not, however, receive a notification when your recipient takes a screenshot of your picture.)
Perhaps most impressively, iDelete also offers users the capacity to “take back” an ill-advised message, provided they change their minds before the recipient in question has opened the message. If you delete a picture you sent (and even if the other person knows he or she has received it, and has seen it in the inbox) before the recipient views it, it won’t go through — the recipient will get the following message, saying that the picture has been deleted.
These are interesting (and promising) ideas, and ones that provide something Snapchat doesn’t, at least for those users who value privacy above all else. Says Krivorot: “We feel that self-destruct messages are the way of the future. As a part of that vision, we wanted to be the first to market an enhanced platform of privacy and security features. We offer our patent-pending Screenshot Protection, and 256-bit encryption that we feel equips users with essential privacy and security options.”
iDelete doesn’t look especially great at the moment, but that’s not so difficult to change. Overcoming the already enormous brand name “Snapchat” — and the sexting specter it represents — though, especially among its majority teen audience, might be much tougher.