In just over a year, Instagram has amassed an impressive user base of over 30 million - and only on the iPhone. Yesterday, Instagram finally launched for Android. The app is nearly identical, lacking only a few small features. But this is more important for the Instagram community as a whole than simply for owners of Android phones. Instagram has succeeded wildly in an over saturated marked - over saturated with photo editors, photo filters, photo albums, over saturated with micro social networks and mobile only social networks, not to mention the big players. It’s easy to see why this is and how Instagram already has the ball rolling. Now with their expansion to Android, they can ride the momentum.
Social networks have an inherent problem for adopters. There’s no reason to use it if no one you know is on it. Of course, many have come to surpass this hurdle, but many many more have failed. The App Store is littered with mobile only social networks that have received only the slightest of press coverage. Even hot apps like Path and Highlight are hard sells outside of San Francisco - the tech press seems to ignore that there are areas lacking ‘obvious’ things like heavy Twitter use, let alone smart phone saturation.
Instagram provides more than a social network. As much as they want us to treat it like a rigorous network, it isn’t, at least not first and foremost. Instagram allowed for heavy adoption, because even without other friends on the service, the app still generated a product for users: photographs that looked good. Allowing for easy sharing to Twitter and Facebook proliferated Instagram’s clear style. You can tell an Instagram photo apart from anything else. In this way Instagram has been able to gain its massive installation of users. People can see why they should get Instagram. A few acquaintances being on Path is hardly a compelling argument.
Instagram’s social aspect is good and well, but the company wants it to be the app’s main focus going forward. Now it can be. Instagram has been opened up to nearly every smartphone owner. It doesn’t need this social aspect to succeed, but a stream littered with photos is a joy to browse through. It’s a different medium than Facebook or Path. With the certain coming influx of Android users, the social aspect is bound to become a powerful player.
It’s understandable that it took Instagram’s small team so long to bring about an Android app. Now that they have, the lack of a web interface is even more noticeable. It’s a bit bizarre that we’re unable to browse others’ profiles on anything but the tiny phone app. There isn’t even a way to navigate through a user’s previous photos without a direct link. The team’s dedication to quality is evident, but when so many third parties have managed something using Instagram’s API, even a simple interface would be fine for now. Much has been made of these mobile-first social networks. It certainly makes a lot of sense to design around the device you have at all times. But your phone isn’t necessarily what you spend most of your time on. Something is sure to be in the pipeline. Impressively, the absence doesn’t hurt Instagram - it just doesn’t help.
It’ll be exciting to watch Instagram’s expansion during their second year. They’ve built up a strong reputation. They have a great core product, and the social element is about to grow significantly stronger. If they already aren’t, Instagram is about to become the first big success in the mobile-first social space - and that’s a lot harder than filtering a photograph.