Camera, Facebook’s brand new photo sharing app, is built to do precisely the same thing as its wildly popular stepsister, but it feeds directly into Facebook rather than into Instagram’s walled garden, population 40 million and growing. It may not officially have Instagram DNA, but Facebook Camera offers up a palette of 14 filters to please any budding mobile photog, though they sport more literal labels (“Neon” and “Golden”) than in Instagram’s own moody toolkit.
Tinker with your photo (you know you want to crop it into a square, go ahead), apply a filter to set the tone, tag a friend and send it straight to Facebook. Like Instagram photos on Facebook, it’ll appear on your Timeline at full-width – and fast. Facebook Camera, which was built independently of Kevin Systrom and co., runs circles around the regular Facebook app in terms of speed and navigability. If you mainly use Facebook to share photos with friends, Facebook Camera is a sleek, lightweight way to beam your pictures to the social network – but it’s no Instagram.
Or Is It?
Facebook Camera takes more than a few cues from the photo sharing service we all know and love, but it’s got a leg up with that whole 90-plus-million-strong active userbase. But why did Facebook make its very own Instagram at all? Facebook has been building this app for the better part of a year, since well before it successfully put the moves on Instagram. In fact, at least some photo filter features were ready to roll last August, according to engineers involved with the project.
Facebook couldn’t just sit on its hands while Instafever spread like so much Toaster-tinted wildfire. As the company made a move for the photo sharing app, it was smart to develop its own in parallel – it certainly has the resources to do so. Facebook Camera was insurance that the king of social won’t look like a lumbering giant next to the hot photo filtering craze that has all the social media whippersnappers in a tizzy. Instagram innovated, and gave us something we didn’t know we needed until there we were, huddled over an iPhone screen tweaking a teensy square photo with the zeal of a less digital artist. As ReadWriteWeb Editor-at-Large Dan Frommer puts it, “Facebook bought Instagram because it’s doing something new and different that’s special; because it represented the biggest existing threat to Facebook.” It wanted to assure us that, as the true sovereign of social, it can meet the evolving needs of its vast kingdom – there’s no need to let our eyes wander.
The polished little in-house photo app – which was developed independently of the Instagram team – must have been burning a hole in Facebook’s pocket. And the company might as well siphon off Instagrammers while it watches the clock – they’ll all end up in the same place anyhow.
Beyond Instagram, Facebook Camera also throws some elbows in the direction of Google+’s slick photo features. Google+ is still floundering when it comes to engaging users, but the site has a dedicated base of photogs who enjoy tools like Instant Upload and the large lightbox photo view, which Facebook mixed into its own recipe in February.
Camera isn’t Facebook’s only spinoff app. Last year it released Messenger, another service that serves its purpose far better than the Facebook app itself. Just like with the ill-fated Pool Party and the advent of Google+, there likely isn’t room for two.
It’s hard to say what Facebook will do with its new set of photo sharing nesting dolls. Once the Instagram buy goes through (assuming it’s smooth sailing), the social giant will have the choice of integrating the two, or deep sixing one altogether. And after Instagram’s loyalist outcry, it’d be wise to handle both the popular product and the brand with kid gloves. May the best-loved app win.