Just Another iPhone App Called “Camera”?

Alan Bullock
May 25, 2012

Yesterday, seemingly without warning, Facebook launched an iPhone app called Camera. With it, users can take pictures, apply editing filters, share them with other users, and “like” and comment on others’ pictures. If you’re thinking that this sounds a lot like Instagram, you’re right. If you’re thinking that Facebook has re-branded and re-released Instagram just six weeks after announcing its agreement to acquire the company for a cool $1 billion, you’re wrong. That deal hasn’t even closed yet, and Facebook Camera was reportedly in development before that news broke in early April.

At first glance, the two apps appear to be very similar, but there are some significant differences. For one, Facebook Camera will upload photos only to Facebook. No surprise there. Instagram, on the other hand, also supports sharing via Twitter, Flickr, Tumble, Foursquare, and e-mail. Instagram also has more interesting names for its filters, for whatever that’s worth.

In my opinion, Facebook Camera has some real advantages. It’s fast, it’s simple, and it solves two of my pet peeves with Instagram — viewing multiple photos shared by another user without having to choose each one individually from a page of thumbnails, and the ability to zoom in on a photo. There are still a few things I’d like to see it do better — like letting the user choose a Facebook Album to which the photos will be uploaded. Perhaps this will be in version 2.0.

So does Facebook still need Instagram? Will they walk away from the acquisition or, worse yet, buy it and close it? Those scenarios are highly unlikely. While there is certainly a great deal of overlap between Instagram’s 50 million users and Facebook’s 900 million users, Instagram is a decidedly different community than Facebook. On the whole, Instagram photos seem to be more about artistic expression and appreciation while Facebook is a more about social conversation and sharing among friends. Again, there is overlap, but the differences are real. I believe there is room for both, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apparently does, too.

Certainly, this new app gives Facebook more control over its users’ entire photo sharing workflow from the moment of capture. It also probably eliminates the need (and limits the opportunity) for developers of apps that take pictures, edit them, and share them.

Nevertheless, questions remain. While Camera offers a better photo experience than the standard Facebook app, will users be content to switch back and forth between the two apps? Will the features of Camera eventually find their way into the standard app? Time will tell. Meanwhile, Facebook has a great mobile photo app, and is in the process of acquiring another.

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