Facebook may be developing a stand-alone camera app, but industry analysts say it's likely too late for the company to displace Snapchat, the highly popular photo-messaging app.
On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook has created a prototype of the app, which has both the ability to take photos and to shoot video. It's a strategy that fits with the company's push to get users to post live-streaming video.
Citing unnamed sources, the Journal said the prototype is in its early stages and may never become a real product.
Facebook declined to comment on the report, saying it doesn't comment on speculation.
The more photos and videos that users post to Facebook, the more time those users, and presumably their friends, spend on the site.
Facebook, which has 1.6 billion users, may also hope that younger users will like the new app enough to use the social media site more often or maybe to start using it for the first time.
That would be a big deal for Facebook, which has admitted that users under the age of 25 have been defecting from the site or not signing up to use it at all. Many have said that Facebook's problem is that teens and young adults don't want to use the same social network that their parents and grandparents are using.
"A stand-alone app lets the picture and video-centric people stay in Facebook more, [and that] means more advertising revenue," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research. "They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in social media it seems it's the only thing. We live in a video-and-picture-oriented society now, so appealing to users means video and pics need to be a core part of the platform."
Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said photos and video will be critical to Facebook's continued growth of its user base, but he doubts this latest move will hurt rival Snapchat or draw more younger users to Facebook.
"Facebook is just playing catch-up," Moorhead said. "The Western world is enchanted by Snapchat, so, at this point, all Facebook can do is plug that giant hole where users are escaping. I don't think a camera app would bring those elusive younger users in, but maybe it could keep the ones it has from leaving."
This isn't the first time that Facebook has gone after Snapchat.
In November, the company confirmed to Computerworld that it was testing a Snapchat-like feature that enabled users to send messages that would automatically disappear an hour after they were sent. Disappearing photos and messages are what have made Snapchat such a hot commodity for younger users who want to keep their messages private – often from curious parents.
Being behind in the game has become a problem for Facebook, according to Kerravala.
"Having the camera app makes it easier to compete, but it seems that Facebook is constantly playing catch up," he said. "Once Facebook builds the camera app, it would be good to see them do something to jump ahead of Snapchat, instead of keeping pace."
He added that Snapchat hasn't had much to worry about from Facebook, but this latest move could prompt Snapchat to pay attention.