Please Stop Copying Instagram

There are currently almost 1.5 million apps available in the iTunes and Android app stores. The selection means that no matter what your need, there is at least one or — more likely — dozens of apps to meet your needs. Nowhere does this seem to be more apparent than in the fast-growing photography category. Defined by Instagram’s flagship success, the photography app market seems to be at a crossroads. In the quest to become the next Instagram, many developers have instead chosen to make Instagram again, and again, and again.

To a certain extent, the proliferation of photo apps is good business sense. The rise of smartphones and their high-quality, built in cameras means photographers are no longer required to carry expensive, single-purpose equipment with them to take photos. Smartphones also mean the average consumer will always have a camera on hand, making photography an easy hobby to pick up. Since these devices are capable of storing hundreds or even thousands of pictures, it is now possible to take dozens of photos in the pursuit of a perfect image. Even when things don’t turn out as we hoped, we can add filters, effects, frames and artful blurs to hide the flaws in our images. Developers have responded to our sudden interest in photography by providing us with hundreds, if not thousands of new options for altering and sharing them.

The first wave of photography apps may have sprung up to serve a brand new, fast-growing market, but now the vast majority of photography apps seem to be more interested in fast follow, not innovation. For every high quality photo app, there are dozens of half-baked copies, and single-featured services with poor implementation.

Near the end of October, Inside Mobile Apps began to shift its reviews focus from games to other app types. Since that change, 18 of those — almost a quarter of all the reviews we have published — have been for photography apps. Ten of the 18 apps reviewed since then included their own social networks. Eleven were designed around sharing content and eight offered Instagram-style filters. Most contained overlapping feature sets.

Compare that to the second most popular review category: productivity. Out of the 16 productivity apps reviewed, four were note taking apps, three were task managers, two each were contact managers and slide presentation managers. There were single occurrences of chore tracking, translation, password management, voice memo and document signing apps. While we reviewed nearly as many productivity apps as photography apps, the productivity apps showed a much wider range of differentiating factors. Even when we reviewed two productivity apps with the same purpose, there was differentiation in the product. Both Wunderlist and Clear are glorified to-do lists, but they have features, use cases and user interfaces to differentiate it from its competitors. Why isn’t this variety found in photography apps?

Most smartphone photographers are not looking for another, more specific iteration of Instagram. Do people really want to load up a separate app just to view a social network filled with panorama photos? Do people really need to download an app so they can link and share a series of photos together? If the performance of Story and PanoPerfect are any indication to go by, probably not.

Not exactly burning up the charts.

Of course, a smartphone owner can and will use multiple photography services depending on their needs. There is no reason not post photos to Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, each service filling its own specific niche. There is also the possibility of disruption — a MySpace-like fall from popularity that could see Instagram lose favor and a new photo-based social network take its place. One could also see a Tumblr-like rise, growing quietly and amassing an enormous userbase in the process. There may be dozens of reasons to keep making better photography apps, but there are many more reasons not to keep making the same ones over and over again.