Instagram is testing a standalone app called Direct, which will serve as an app for private messages. The new Direct app is apparently the company’s first step in completely removing the inbox feature from the main Instagram app.
Instagram’s standalone Direct app will become available today for iOS and Android in six countries: Chile, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Turkey and Uruguay, as first reported by The Verge. When users install Direct, the inbox from the main Instagram app will disappear. If Instagram users want to send or read private messages, they will now have to open the Direct app.
The Direct app is only being tested in the aforesaid six countries and Instagram could release it globally in the future. However, the company hasn’t given a timeline of when or if that’s going to happen. If Direct does become a standalone messaging app, parent company Facebook will now have three messaging apps under it.
So why is Instagram experimenting with a standalone messaging app? The company believes that its current messaging feature could never deliver the best experience if its baked inside an app that prioritizes sharing photos and videos publicly.
“We want Instagram to be a place for all of your moments, and private sharing with close friends is an important part of that,” Instagram product manager Hemal Shah told The Verge. “Direct has grown within Instagram over the past four years, but we can make it even better if it stands on its own. We can push the boundaries to create the fastest and most creative space for private sharing when Direct is a camera-first, standalone app.”
The Direct app, in its current state, is simple and straightforward. Most of the features that are in the Direct app can already be found on the current Instagram app. Direct comes with three sections: the inbox, the camera and the profile screen.
The thing that stands out the most is the camera, which is the first thing that will greet users when they open the Direct app. This is similar to how Snapchat opens, which is a way to encourage users to start taking and sharing photos. If users don’t actually want to take a photo in the Direct app, they could simply swipe down from the top and start typing a message. Since Instagram is also positioning Direct as a camera-first app, it also comes with four exclusive filters which aren’t available in the main Instagram app.
The Direct app’s inbox can be accessed by swiping to the right, while the profile section can be accessed by swiping to the left. The inbox houses all of the user’s received messages, while the profile screen lets users access the app’s settings. Overall, the Direct app works pretty much like Snapchat, which isn't a surprise since Facebook and Instagram have been copying for some time now.
The Direct app also comes with a feature that lets users switch to the main Instagram app. When users start swiping to the right while they’re already in the Direct inbox, an Instagram logo will pop up. When that happens, users can keep swiping right to open the main Instagram app. A similar feature is also present in the Instagram app to quickly jump into Direct.
By creating the standalone Direct app, Instagram is doing the same thing that Facebook did with Messenger. When Messenger became a standalone app, it started with around 500 million users. Now, it has grown to 1.3 billion users, as pointed out by Business Insider. If Instagram decides to release Direct globally, it could become the next big private messaging platform right next to Facebook's Messenger.