At the end of March, a preview page for the Android version of the hugely popular iPhone photo app Instagram appeared. Anyone who signed-up to be notified by email of the app’s release will have seen a nice surprise in their inbox yesterday, as Instagram for Android became available inside Google Play’s app store.
The app has reportedly been downloaded more than one million times in just 24-hours, an impressive figure that joins Instagram‘s many other successes, including a 30 million-plus user base on iOS alone, and more than five million pictures being shared every day.
For all its fans and the massive impact it has had on iOS, Instagram‘s basic features are hardly unique, as it’s another in a line of apps that let you add vintage-style filters to your mobile pictures, then share them via your social network of choice.
Instagram differs from the competition by having its own community of active users, and the chance to like and comment on uploaded pictures. Android Instagram-mers have the significant benefit of leaping into an already bustling network of iPhone users, rather than having to start their own from scratch.
Like its iPhone counterpart, Instagram for Android is free to download and once it’s installed, you create a new account with an email address or using your Facebook credentials. The app can completely replace the stock camera app on your phone if you wish, as pictures are stored both online and locally, or to compliment it, as pictures taken outside of Instagram can be synced across.
The app’s design isn’t particularly inspiring, offering little more than a shutter key, import button and flash control on the main screen, however, Instagram‘s brilliance is hidden elsewhere.
Pictures posted by the Instagram users you follow appear in a separate feed, while another page shows the day’s most popular new images, although these seem to differ between the iPhone and Android app, so there’s a chance the two platforms haven’t been fully integrated yet.
The final section deals with ‘news,’ or information related to the people you follow, such as pictures they’ve liked or users they’ve recently started following. Instagram is a true mobile social network, as it has almost no desktop web presence at all, with linked images appearing on a single page rather than the stream you see in the app.
So, you’ve signed-up and now you want to share a picture. You’ve found a suitable subject and fired up the camera screen, ready to press the shutter release. Up to here, it’s the same experience as the iPhone version, but if you’re looking for the ‘live filter’ view, don’t bother, as it’s not here yet and will appear in a future update.
With your picture taken and cropped to size, it’s time to select and apply a filter. There’s the same choice of 17 filters found on iOS, and all subtly alter your picture to give it a different look. Styles vary from vintage sepia to a washed-out 70s look, or cool black and white.
There’s also a brightness control – although it’s either on or off – image rotation and a button to add or remove a border. Tapping each filter previews it over your image, and when you’re happy you can instantly post it to Instagram along with a range of other social networks including Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.
Sadly, the iPhone’s excellent Tilt-Shift feature, used to provide depth of field, is also absent from the Android app at this stage. Aside from these two missing features, Instagram on Android is an almost identical experience to Instagram on the iPhone.
While coating your photos in a filter is fun and can give your picture a slight artistic edge it perhaps didn’t have before, as with all creative apps, it’s no substitute for skill or the ability to frame a shot.
This is where Instagram‘s social side really comes into its own, as you can easily filter (no pun intended) out those who only post ugly monstrosities, and build a list of Instagram-mers who take great photos. One shouldn’t forget that adding a filter is only an option in Instagram, and sometimes an un-filtered picture looks better than when it has been artificially enhanced.
Instagram is about to become a very different place, as an army of Android photographers start adding their pictures to the service, and from all sorts of different camera phones too. How will the community change? It’s already difficult to find decent people to follow and an influx of this scale will only make it more so; but, on the flip side, more users should mean more talent too.
So there you have it, Instagram is at its heart, a simple photo app, but it hides an engaging social network that’s only going to get bigger once Android owners fully embrace it, and potentially even more rich in content given the amount of exciting new Android camera phones about to go on sale.
Best of all, you can join Instagram right now, for free, and unlike before you don’t need an Apple iPhone.