As promised in mid-July, Reels, Instagram’s TikTok clone feature, officially rolled out in the U.S. this week, along with over 50 other countries, including Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Japan and the U.K.
It hardly seems to be a coincidence that Instagram is making its push with Reels at the same time that the video-creation platform it drew inspiration from, TikTok, is under extreme heat in the U.S.
Instagram vice president of product Vishal Shah tried to downplay the timing, saying in a press call earlier this week that while it happens to be coincidental in some ways, rolling out Reels has always been part of Instagram’s plan.
Shah said, “We had the sense that the product had potential. Reels is just an acceleration of what people are excited to do on Instagram. TikTok has done some really amazing work in the space. It didn’t invent short-form video, but it innovated on it. Others are definitely tapping into this format. We think our version of this product is unique to Instagram.”
President Donald Trump issued an executive order Thursday night compelling U.S. businesses and citizens to cease transactions with TikTok parent ByteDance starting in 45 days. TikTok responded by threatening to take the administration to court.
TikTok has been facing heat due to ByteDance’s Chinese ties, although ByteDance claims to be headquartered in the Cayman Islands.
In late June, India banned 59 applications with ties to China, including TikTok—a major blow, as India was the top country for TikTok downloads, with 46.6 million just in February, according to app analytics provider Sensor Tower.
Not surprisingly, Facebook swooped in and rolled out Reels in India in early July.
Reels enables Instagram users to record and edit 15-second multi-clip videos, complete with audio, effects and other new creative tools.
“There’s a lot of appetite for short-form video on Instagram,” Shah said. “In the last month, 45% of videos uploaded to feed were 15 seconds or less.”
Reels can be shared with followers through feed, and people with public accounts can make them available to the wider Instagram community via a new space in the Explore tab.
Instagrammers can access Reels at the bottom of the Instagram Camera, where they will also be able to take advantage of its various editing tools.
Songs can be selected from Instagram’s music library, or users can record with their own original audio. When Instagrammers opt for the latter, their audio will be attributed to them and, if their accounts are public, other users can create Reels with that audio by selecting “Use Audio” from their Reels.
Augmented reality effects from Instagram and creators around the world can be added, enabling people to record multiple clips with different effects.
A timer can be set to enable hands-free recording.
An alignment tool enables people to line up objects from previous clips before recording new ones, in order to create seamless transitions for moments such as changing outfits or adding new friends into the Reel.
Users have the option of speeding up or slowing down parts of the audio or video, helping them stay on a beat or create slow-motion videos.
Instagram said Reels can be recorded in a series of clips, all at once or by uploading existing videos from users’ galleries.
Once Reels are done, Instagrammers with public accounts can share them to a dedicated place in Explore and post them to their feeds.
When Reels feature certain songs, hashtags or effects, they may also appear on dedicated pages that appear when users click on those respective elements.
People with private accounts can share Reels to their feeds so that only followers see them, and other people will not be able to use original audio from those Reels or share them with other users who are not followers.
Reels will also appear in a separate tab on the profiles of the users who create them.
And they can be shared via Stories, to close friends only or via Instagram Direct messages. When shared to Stories, they will be treated like Stories: They will not be shared to Explore or appear on profiles, and they will disappear after 24 hours.
Shah noted that Reels was originally a product built into Stories, but it found that users did not want to put the effort into creating Reels only to have them disappear in 24 hours.
For viewers, the Reels feed in Explore delivers a customized selection of content from across Instagram, and users can like, comment or share Reels with friends.