While Apple stole the show this week by introducing the new some new photo-editing features in the upcoming iOS 8 operating system, popular photo-sharing app Instagram showed off some new features of its own on Tuesday. Instagram 6.0 is out now for iOS and Android devices, packing the kind of editing tools we're used to seeing in apps like Adobe Photoshop Express and VSCO Cam.
The features themselves are nothing groundbreaking, with sliders to adjust the strength of filters as well as brightness, contrast, warmth, saturation, and highlights/shadows. The additions are very well-executed, showing the kind of interface polish we've come to expect from Instagram. What's more interesting, however, is the change these additions signify for a company that built its entire photo-sharing empire on the back of simple, inflexible photo filters.
Instagram classics like "Toast" and "X-Pro II" were designed to be visually compelling and usable by anybody who can press a shutter button, rather than photographers who know what adjusting contrast and saturation will do to their photos. This simple interface made the app much more approachable for everyday folks, who were able to give their photos a striking look and feel with just the tap of an icon.
In retrospect, it's remarkable that Instagram has been able to gain such a large user base with just a basic suite of photo filters. Where Instagram truly succeeds, however, is not in editing your photos, but in sharing them. The community that's sprung up around Instagram is the company's most prized asset. However, other apps such as VSCO Cam have since built a strong following by including the simple editing features that Instagram has only just gotten around to including.
In an interview with TechCrunch's Josh Constine, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom outlined the company's renewed focus on closing this gap and keeping users in-house. Systrom noted, "There’s an appetite for more advanced tools to let people be more creative on top of their photos...Now instead of using multiple apps to get your photos looking the way you want, you can just come to Instagram."
Instagram probably doesn't mind as long as people are ultimately using its app to share photos and connect with friends. But allowing any competitor to gain steam leaves the Facebook-owned photo service vulnerable to the same kind of upheaval that has doomed plenty of previously dominant social media services in the past. Today's update fixes that strategic error, and users now have one less reason to move beyond Instagram's borders.