I’m rather impressed with Instagram. Here’s yet another photo sharing app that simply with its introduction has dominated an incredibly crowded space. To get a little insight in the development secrets of Instagram, I spoke with the CEO, Kevin Systrom, at the Mobilize conference in San Francisco.
Understand the difficulties of mobile development vs. the web
Compared to mobile, web development is easy. Mobile development simply compounds the problems you have on the web. Here are Systrom’s examples:
Phone behavior varies — Computer access is standardized. Not so with phones.
Manage connectivity — Not a concern with web apps today, but a huge concern with phone apps that fall onto the EDGE network or disconnect completely. How can your app handle that? Many apps simply shut down or freeze once the phone hits the EDGE network. You have to optimize your output for speed and inactivity of network.
The best feature is less features
There are an endless number of photo sharing apps. How did Instagram succeed in such a crowded field, I asked Systrom.
He believes their success has to do with elements they didn’t put into the app. They purposely removed extraneous features and made it very simple to use.
For example, to Systrom, speed of upload is a major feature of Instagram. One way to get there was to reduce the quality of their images. It’s kind of counterintuitive to a photo app, but it worked. In their most recent update of Instagram, they’ve reduced the filter render times from 4 seconds down to 4 milliseconds. That’s made a huge impact on application speed.
Lastly, filters, which traditionally have been an extra unused add-on slapped onto most image editing and sharing programs are actually integral to the upload process for Instagram, and are used for 2/3rds of all uploads, said Systrom.
Move quickly and get the details right
“Putting out half-baked apps in mobile is the worst thing you can do,” said Systrom.
While users will put up with lack of functionality in Web development, and you have the flexibility of multiple iterations, you can’t do the same in mobile. Systrom’s advice is to do fewer things, but do fewer things better. Focus on the details that matter.
Systrom suggest you list out three things that matter most about your app and make sure every detail about that is working for your app. For Instagram those three things were application speed, distribution to other networks, and speed of upload.