There’s a war brewing over the management of photographs taken on your mobile phone. It’s not a hardware battle but one over software and services, and the stakes are huge. It will affect billions of dollars and trillions of images.
As many of you know, Facebook recently paid $1 billion to acquire Instagram, a young and fast growing software company that did three things incredibly well: 1) made your images look great with a set of filters, 2) decreased latency to upload your photo, which can be painfully slow on a mobile network, and 3) allowed you to easily share to all your social networks. By focusing on these three core principles, Instagram grew to become a threat to the world’s largest social network. The fact that posting images is the heart of social networking meant that Facebook simply couldn’t let Instagram get acquired by another firm and, as a result, potentially yield their core value to another player. It was a bold move and may turn out to be a coup when looking back a few years from now. The fact that Facebook released their much rumored Facebook Camera app less than two months after acquiring Instagram confirmed that the purchase was more about eliminating competition.
This is just one of many battles playing out in the new war over mobile photography software and services. I’m sure there have been conversations at Google and Twitter about whether to create a dedicated camera application, which begs the question: What will thesmartphone image landscape look like a year from now? Looking farther out than a year is challenging because of the incredible speed ofchanges in mobile technology. Just think: we didn’t even have the iPhone five years ago.
So, in 2013, when I want to take a photo and share it with my friends, the primary way in which I’ll be sharing won’t be hitting “send” to any service. Yes, people will still use email attachments, post to Facebook or tweet a photo, but the difference is that the primary sharing method will be done automatically, in the background, using the next generation of high bandwidth connections, for instance LTE.
This is one of the primary ways in which Instagram nailed photo sharing. While facilitating which services in which you wanted to share your images, geo-tagging or writing a title, Instagram is already uploading the photo in the background. Hit “post” and it seems instantaneous. Google Plus (G+) does this for all your photos in the camera roll and has become my images hard drive, all in the cloud. If only I had a better use for G+ besides storing my photos, but that’s another story.
In addition to higher bandwidth networks, the future of mobile photography will benefit from a continuation of the rapid improvement of both camera lenses and processing power. By the end of the year, phones like theSamsung Galaxy S3, HTC One X and the rumored iPhone 5 will be introduced. We’ll see even better photos processed with even better filters. It’s not about making your photo look like it’s from 1975, as fun as that is. We’ll see high dynamic range imaging (HDR) that is typically done today with high end cameras and Photoshop. I’ve had a nice SLR camera for years, but I never would have been able to create this photo without filters in Instagram.
I’m sure we’ll see a better Twitter photo experience sometime next year, but G+ is lost without any semblance of what makes them unique unless you’re a Google employee. Photography will be a big part of G+’s growth throughout the next year. They need better integration with Gmail to email my photos to my friends and family that have already been uploaded to G+.
Instagram will continue to gobble up users at an incredible pace, passing 100 million users in the next year. Facebook Camera will be used by hundreds of millions of Facebook users as an easier way to upload photos, but the application won’t be bringing in new users to Facebook. Of course photo uploads will increase, but the type of photos will not.
Viddy and Socialcam are the early leaders in social mobile video and I could see both existing, but the recent closure of Instagram competitor PicPlz may be a sign of things to come. We are at an inflection point formobile image services as networks show signs of maturing and fewer new services launching.
More than anything, the next year is going to be about background processes and cloud computing. More services will rely on work done inthe background while you’re surfing the internet or reading email. Then, when you want the content you created, you can access it remotely, anytime and on any device. A great photo has always been the best way to tell a story and more a social digital experience.
We’ll continue to see more integrated services, relying on high speed data connections and better processing power to create photos, processed with connected services that will rival the highest end digital cameras. You may not think that’s possible today, but I believe these services will enhance photos and make them better than anything we can do today.