Big news hit the Interwebs on April 3rd of this year, Instagram was finally made available for Android devices! As Droid users rejoiced, iPhone fanboys (and girls) were found convulsing in fits of anger. Eh… iPhone, Android, I don’t really care. I just want cool apps available for whatever mobile device I happen to be using today. In my case, it’s an HTC Incredible 2, so I was intrigued what this Instagram hype is all about.
Downloading Instagram is a simple matter, like any other app open your phone’s Google Play Store, search, and install. After the customary sign-up and profile creation, you’re given the option to connect with friends via Twitter or Facebook. Then you’re brought to the Home screen, which shows your friends latest photos. The home screen is a basic photo viewer with options to “Like” or comment on photos of the people you follow. I like the simple nature of this screen, it’s all about showing photos one after another without too much extra fluff.
Other screens are accessed by touching the buttons along the bottom. The next one over from the home screen is the Popular screen, accessed by touching the star button. The popular screen shows, not surprisingly, seemingly popular images from Instagram at the time, based on Likes. While all of the images on the screen have many likes, it seems more random than necessarily best of the best. Hitting the refresh button on the top right corner (usually) gets a new set of images.
Next up is the all important Camera screen, which uses your phone’s forward or backward facing cameras and includes the flash option (if equipped). Pretty basic stuff here, just point and shoot. Alternatively, use this screen to choose an image you’ve already taken using another camera or gallery app. Once you’ve taken or selected a picture, you’re immediately brought to the edit / filter screen. Up to this point, I’ve been fairly satisfied, but this is where it kind of goes down hill for me. As a photographer, I feel that most of the filters are tired, boring, and just make images look like crap by adding noise and too much contrast. A few are on the tamer side, while most give your images a retro look. It’s ok, but at this point is starting to get over done. As far as image editing goes, not a whole lot to get excited about here. There’s a brightness/contrast enhancement button (top, middle) that basically over saturates and adds too much contrast, which in most cases (though not all) will just ruin the image. For really low contrast photos it may add some punch, but be careful with this one. I would like to see a slider that allows for gradual changes. Finally, there’s the borders. Borders are great accents to these square images, but why lock them down to a particular filter?? It would be great if they decoupled the filters from the borders, so that they can be selected individually. Now you might be saying “who cares about filters, I edit using another app anyway”. That’s fine and all, but what a pain to use separate apps for accomplishing one task?
Moving along… once you finish your amazing image filtering magic, on the Upload screen you can add a caption and hashtags as well as geotag your photo before uploading it to the Instagram cloud. You can also choose to post the image to Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and Tumblr (what, no Flickr?? no Google+??). This is pretty basic, but you don’t need any more. What I would like is the ability to change this information later. No can do… if you want to add anything (like additional hashtags), you can comment on your post. However, if you want to change or delete a caption, you have to delete the image and all associated likes and comments. Pretty weak.
Two other screens to mention really quick… There’s a News screen that shows any new comments, likes, or follows. Also on the news screen is a Following tab that shows news for the people you’re following. Lastly, there’s your Profile screen which shows your photos, followers, and those you’re following. The followers tab quickly allows you to follow back any of your followers.
Final thoughts… It’s hard to call this a gimmick app, considering its following of 30 million users and recent $1B sale to Facebook. But at the same time, I find it somewhat lacking, with other image viewing and shooting options available (ie Flickr). I also haven’t decided yet how it will help me in marketing myself as a photographer. Also, I’m seeing a significant amount of hashtag spam – people hash tagging images with the most popular words and phrases just to get as much exposure as possible (the other day I saw a photo of an ice cream cone tagged with many words, such as “sunset”, “dog”, and “clouds”). For me, the jury is still out. I’ll play with it some more, hopefully it’ll motivate me to observe my surroundings more for picture making opportunities when all I have is my phone cam. Perhaps I’ll also use it as another venue for showcasing photography taken with my “real” camera. In the long run however, I don’t see this app attached to my hip.