Twitter may have been first with a catchy video app, but Facebook--via Instagram--has the far superior product.
Often in technology, advances are a tit-for-tat business. Twitter got a big jump over Facebook with Vine and its 6-second video loops. After its first week on Android, Vine topped Instagram as the top social app on Google Play.
But with the new video service that Instagram launched Thursday, called Cinema, that head start may quickly evaporate. By both sticking with its existing branding and look-and-feel as well as adding a major technical innovation, Instagram--and, therefore, Facebook--will probably take the lead.
The simple and yet powerful product demo moved out of the obligatory introduction and seemingly endless stream of self-congratulatory stats (130 million users a month, 1 billion image likes a day, 16 billion photos shared), and moved into the heart of the offering.
Yes, Instagram is adding video, as many had already surmised. But this wasn't a knee-jerk reaction to competition. According to Instagram CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom, he and Mike Krieger first discussed adding video in 2010. There's a good reason the company waited, as video is much more complex to process and manage.
The results are a stunningly well thought-out and elegant product. Maintaining the branding was vital, as it is for any business. So, video on Instagram keeps the same aesthetics. There are filters--13 new ones developed with a video artist--and the ability to add hashtags and comments before sharing with others. As with a smartphone camera app, you simply switch between photos and videos. Users can take between 3- and 15-second clips and can put clips together, choosing which will appear first and editing any that are a disappointment.
The jaw-dropping part was the image stabilization on display. Typically, hand-held video taken with a smartphone is jumpy as the human hand twitches. Stabilization in digital still and video cameras is usually handled by either the lens or the camera, depending on the vendor. But Instagram has used a software solution that can work with any phone capable of running the app. Here's a clip from the live feed from the event:
This isn't playing catch-up. Instagram just took a superhero-sized leap ahead of Twitter. Add potential future features of unlimited length and this could be a game-changing move in the entire consumer video market.
The app is available today as an upgrade on both iOS and Android devices.
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