Prediction: This one-liner chat app is about to blow up

By Michael Carney , written on December 24, 2014

From The News Desk

If you’re anything like me and my friends, you can have an entire conversation and communicate effectively using nothing but movie quotes. It’s almost a rite of passage in high school and college that one or more movies – usually a comedy – becomes the go-to source of usable dialogue for a period of days, weeks, or months. For all you people like me, mobile chat is about to get much, much better.

Dubsmash is a simple new chat app that allows users to record a short video selfie (with no sound) and overlay -- or in company (and movie industry) parlance, dub -- that clip with a familiar pop-culture sound bite.

The current catalog of sounds includes is organized into categories like Reality TV, Hangover, Yes/No Action heroes, Party, Cartoon, Comedy, Business, 90’s, YouTube Stars, Sports, Horror, and so forth. The app even has a section dedicated to Christmas, which includes classics like “Merry Christmas, you filthy animal” (Home Alone), “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch,” (Grinch) and “Santa, Oh my God!” (Elf). Users can also record their own, custom dubs – which happens independently of recording the video selfie, potentially adding to the hilarious bad ninja movie mismatch between video and audio.

Once a Dubsmash is created, users can add text overlays and stickers to personalize the result and can share in-app to Whatsapp, iMessages (on iOS), and Facebook Messenger, or save to camera role and publish elsewhere like YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and so on. Incidentally, iMessage and Instagram are where I’ve seen the most usage in early adoption among my friends.

The free app (iOS / Android) is the product of three Berlin-based founders and doesn’t seem to have caught on in the US yet. According to the Google Play store, the Android version of the app has between 5 million and 10 million downloads – presumably, mostly in Europe (the app is currently available in English, Spanish, German, Dutch, French, and Polish) – and registers a 4.2-star rating across 71,000-plus reviews. The iOS version launched in October and has a 4.5-star rating across just 31 reviews, suggesting that downloads are negligible on that platform. Judging by AngelList, the company has yet to raise any money.

The big unknown about Dubsmash is the legality of its dub catalog. Generally, clips from pop culture (movies, music, etc.) are thought to be fair use below a certain length – typically five to six seconds. But this can be an extremely grey area that gets even more complicated when they are being used commercially. Dubsmash’s clips vary in length, and the company (Mobile Motion GmbH) isn’t monetizing its app yet, but presumably that’s part of the long-term plan.

There’s also the question of competition. In attempting to break into the casual messaging space, the company is competing with apps like Snapchat, Yik Yak, Jib Jab Messages, Score! with Friends, and many others. While Dubsmash’s current implementation is unique in the market today, it’s not terribly defensible, and could easily be duplicated by any of the above competitors. At that point, the issue becomes more about network effects – where Dubsmash falls short – and subjective qualities like design and ease of use, where Dubsmash is good but not great.

It’s still relative early going for Dubsmash, at least in North America. But, having spent a few hours playing with it, having seen the obsessive engagement it creates among my friends, and given the inherent viral nature of the product, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it take off in the coming weeks. Also, we’re about to enter the holiday download season when the world fills up their new devices with the hottest new apps.

Dubsmash’s UI is simple, but could use refining. Its catalog of dubs is full of both hilarious favorites and new surprises, but could be better organized. But the real standout is the overall concept of sharing bite-sized, ephemeral bits of personal and pop-culture content between friends. Dubsmash taps into a familiar behavior, meaning for users it’s less of something new and more of a new way of doing something already comfortable and beloved. And who doesn’t love a good one-liner?