What is BeReal? The photo-sharing app topping the charts

(Image credit: BeReal)

BeReal, the French photo sharing platform that's been labelled by some as the "Anti-Instagram" app, has recently hit the number one spot in the social networking section of the App Store.

BeReal was launched at the beginning of 2020, as a simple, stripped-back approach to photo sharing and life sharing. The concept of the app is simple: every day at a different time it will prompt you all to take a photo simultaneously – and you've got two minutes to do so.

If you've never heard of BeReal before, don't worry. I hadn't either, until a friend of mine stopped halfway through a cycle the other day, whipped out her phone, and took a frenzied snap on the app before the two minute timer was up. I was a bit perplexed, but then later on, curious enough to download the app myself.

Our writer Hannah was hooked on BeReal when she tried it earlier this year (way more on-trend than me), and felt that the new photo-sharing app demands authenticity. What I'm interested in now is why the platform has suddenly gone viral in the last few weeks. Is it genuinely an alternative to Instagram? It is a backlash to Instagram in its current state? Is BeReal here to stay?

Social networks will always rise and fall in popularity throughout their life cycle, as generations change, technology improves and new updates please or annoy users. Photo sharing platforms like sites like Flickr or 500px don't feel as popular as they once did and despite the best camera phones making it easier than ever to share photos, we know that Instagram is also having a pretty – to put it lightly – tough time with its image.

I've already written about why Instagram is no longer for photographers, and Make Instagram Instagram again is the latest movement to circle the platform and complain about the changes. Many users are unhappy that Instagram has become more about reels, videos and suggested posts from strangers rather than interacting with your friends and the people you do know and choose to follow.

Interestingly, against all this negative press, BeReal has emerged. BeReal, with the tag line "Your Friends for Real." is hoping to change the way that you interact with friends and get a glimpse into their lives.

BeReal social media app screenshots

(Image credit: BeReal)

What is BeReal and how do you use it?

BeReal markets itself as a photo sharing app, even though it sits in the Social Networking section of the Apple Store. In fact, the official Apple Store description reads "the simplest photo sharing app to share once a day your real life in photo with friends."

Unlike Instagram, which allows seemingly endless uploads, BeReal prompts you to post a photo every day – just once. The idea is that you capture an image wherever you are, and then post it in time to discover what your friends are up to.

Instagram has long come under fire with critics, who say that it represents a highlights reel of life, rather than a representation of reality. Posted photos are often planned and executed carefully, or can be posted from years ago. 

By springing a photo opportunity upon its users, BeReal is seemingly encouraging a more authentic way to capture life and share it with others.

When you're prompted to take a photo, the BeReal app takes both a selfie and a photo from the front camera simultaneously, so you get two images.

BeReal is still a social networking app, and therefore you'll find many predictable social features on the app too. There are daily challenges, and you can comment and react to your friends BeReal profile (that's if you have any friends on the platform, as I don't currently know anyone on it).

BeReal on instagram

(Image credit: BeReal)

BeReal tops the App store

At the time of writing this article, BeReal is at the number one spot among free Social Networking apps on the App Store, ahead of WhatsApp and Facebook.

But let's not forget that it's been out since the beginning of 2020. Developed by Alexis Barreyat, who has previously worked at GoPro, the app looks like it could have gained popularity with Gen Z users earlier this year, a spread that was perhaps helped by a paid ambassador program on college campuses.

According to data shared by Fast Company, BeReal has now been downloaded over 20 million times, and is worth an estimated $600 million.

Does BeReal have a future?

The makers of BeReal seem to have a comedic side, and they've post "warnings" at the bottom of their Apple Store listing for those using the app:

/!\ WARNING /!\

• BeReal won't make you waste time.
• BeReal is life, Real life, and this life is without filters.
• BeReal will challenge your creativity.
• BeReal is your chance to show your friends who you really are, for once.
• BeReal can be addictive.
• BeReal might frustrate you.
• BeReal won't make you famous. If you want to become an influencer you can stay on TikTok and Instagram.

Like all fledgling social networking apps, there are still plenty of glitches that need ironing out. The BeReal interface is smart, but currently very basic, and the makers are welcoming feedback and ideas from users.

Despite this, it's going to be exciting to see if the BeReal app continues to fly, or like some emerging social trends, flop before it really gets going. We've reached out to BeReal for a comment and will update this post if we hear more.

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Lauren Scott
Freelance contributor/former Managing Editor

Lauren is a writer, reviewer, and photographer with ten years of experience in the camera industry. She's the former Managing Editor of Digital Camera World, and previously served as Editor of Digital Photographer magazine, Technique editor for PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine, and Deputy Editor of our sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine. An experienced journalist and freelance photographer, Lauren also has bylines at Tech Radar, Space.com, Canon Europe, PCGamesN, T3, Stuff, and British Airways' in-flight magazine (among others). When she's not testing gear for DCW, she's probably in the kitchen testing yet another new curry recipe or walking in the Cotswolds with her Flat-coated Retriever.