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Instagram messages take on Snapchat, Fleksy introduces iOS keyboard SDK

Social networking heavyweight Instagram on Thursday added a new direct messaging feature designed to counter the popularity of upstart competitor Snapchat, while gesture-based keyboard Fleksy can now be integrated into third-party apps thanks to a new SDK.

Instagram Direct

Instagram, acquired last year by Menlo Park, Calif.-based Facebook for nearly $1 billion, will now allow users to share photos and videos with specific subsets of followers privately, rather than in an open, public feed. Dubbed Instagram Direct, the feature is seemingly intended to head off an emerging threat from time-limited image sharing app Snapchat, which itself reportedly spurned a $3 billion offer from Facebook.

Similarly, a recent Twitter update enabled the sharing of photos between users in direct messages. The twin moves are indicative of the growing movement from text-based to image-based social networking among younger audiences.

Instagram Direct adds a new inbox to manage conversations, and the image capture flow has been updated to add the direct sharing option. The company says comments, views, and likes will be updated in realtime, and a queuing system will allow users to triage images or videos received from those they are not already following.

After beginning life exclusively on iOS, Instagram now boasts 150 million users across both iOS and Android. A Windows Phone app is reportedly on the way — the service's glaring absence is often cited as a strike against Microsoft's mobile platform.

Instagram version 5.0 is available now as a free, 14.0-megabyte download from the App Store.

Fleksy SDK

Since Apple has declined to provide a systemwide plugin architecture for iOS, alternative keyboards have yet to really catch on the way they have on Google's Android —  most are found only in apps designed as technical demonstrations. Fleksy, with the introduction of a new SDK for their gesture-based keyboard, aims to convince developers to build the Fleksy keyboard directly into apps, rather than waiting for an Apple-provided system.

Fleksy's SDK takes advantage of existing iOS APIs that allow app developers to customize the input method of their apps —  Wolfram Alpha's iOS app, for example, makes use of a heavily modified keyboard. This is the same way other keyboard alternatives make their way into the App Store, but Fleksy is the first to provide a complete SDK designed for third parties.

At launch, four applications have been modified to use Fleksy's keyboard: BlindSquare, an assistive application for the visually impaired; GV Connect, a Google Voice client; Launch Center Pro, a LaunchPad-style app for iOS; and Wordbox, a minimalistic text editor.

All four applications are available today from the App Store.