Fast forward to today. Instagram is just about to hit 10 million users. They are the nimble upstart that has become the gold standard in the mobile social photo space . Everyone is gunning for them. And so it’s fitting that today, a year after my initial post, they’re unveiling version 2.0 of their app.
First, it’s important to note what Instagram 2.0 is not: a completely new app. If the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies to anyone, it applies to Instagram. At its core, what they’ve built is clearly working, so there’s no reason to change that. But the Instagram team realized there was a way to dramatically improve the service while retaining the elements users love. So they set out to completely re-engineer the camera.
The aspect of the app where the magic really happens has been completely re-done. When you first load the camera up, you’ll notice that it looks different. The limited settings buttons at the bottom have been replaced by more robust controls along the top of the camera screen. There you’ll find the flash toggle, the ability to flip to the front camera, and the ability to close the camera. But you’ll also find the new tools: border toggle, and a new water drop icon (more on that in a second).
Along the bottom of the camera portion of the app, on either side of the shutter, you’ll find the button to load images from your camera roll and a new eye icon. Clicking on this icon alters the Instagram camera to make it so that you can see camera filters in realtime. Yes, you now see what a picture will look with a filter before you take it.
How? Instagram has completely re-written the filters to make them as fast as possible. It used to be that you would have to wait a few seconds for a filter to be applied to a photo, even on the quick iPhone 4. Now it’s nearly instantaneous in Instagram 2.0. And this allows them to do live filtering as well. The filters now perform over 200 times faster, co-founder Kevin Systrom says.
Other apps, notably Path, have done live filters before. But the performance has left something to be desired. And more recently, Path removed the ability and now focuses on filtering after a picture is taken.
To be clear, with Instagram 2.0, you can still filter after a picture is taken as well. If you don’t click on the eye icon, you won’t see the filtering option until after you’ve taken the picture — just like the old days. But what’s really cool is that even if you filter an image before you take the picture, you can change your mind after you take it, and switch the filter.
Speaking of filters, yes, there are more of them. Instagram has added four news ones with the 2.0 release: Amaro, Rise, Hudson, and Valencia. Instagram has teamed up with one popular Instagram user to make these and even more down the line.
Going back to the water drop icon, this allows you to also tilt-shift in realtime as well. Or you can do it after the picture is taken. This tool has also been re-written to be 100 times faster than before, and it’s now more visually obvious what the focal point is.
Once you take a picture, there is also a new option to rotate it, 90 degrees at a time. And again, there’s also now a border toggle to turn off borders for any filter that has them by default.
That’s about giving users more control, and along those lines, Instagram is giving users another element many have requested: high-resolution photos. Previously, Instagram would save all photos as 612×612 — now they’re 1936×1936, taking full advantage of the iPhone 4′s camera. But it’s important to note that these high resolutions images are only saved to your camera roll. The images uploaded to Instagram’s servers are still the smaller variety. Instagram says they’re doing this in order to ensure fast upload speeds are maintained and because iOS 5 with Photo Stream will allow people to share higher resolution images that way.
With these changes to the camera, Instagram is simply extending upon its lead in the social mobile photo space. The picture-taking process is now much faster and more powerful and that’s a win for all current users. These things will also convert even more non-users over to the service. They’re not changing what’s working, they’re improving upon what’s working.
And Instagram’s timing is good. While Google quickly killed off its mobile photo-sharing fledglings, others, like Facebook, are widely expected to get into the game soon. In fact, we’ve seen pictures of their app. Color is also about to pivot to Blue, a new mobile photo sharing app that ties in deeply with Facebook. Other rivals such as Path are said to be working on completely revamped products in the mobile photos space as well. And with the launch of iOS 5 in a few weeks, more developers will be building photo apps with filters than ever before.
One more thing: the Android app? No sorry, not yet. But Instgram did get a pretty new iOS icon.
You can find Instagram in the App Store here.