Snapchat Was Just Forced to Copycat Instagram

A story of impulse, habit, and the battle for your camera.

Instagram is putting the heat on Snapchat. And I love it.

I quit Snapchat stories a few months back. I was tired of all the sleazy featured stories that were always plastered all over that page, so I decided to jump ship and try Instagram stories instead. I, like many, had rolled my eyes when Instagram first copied Snapchat like this, but I was surprised to find that Instagram’s story tools have gotten good. Really good. Instagram has better captioning tools. They’re more flexible, more interesting, and allow for more creativity. They’re fun!

But more importantly, Instagram stories are better because you can post pictures or videos from your phone’s camera roll. This allows for even more creativity. I can post time-lapses or photos that I’ve edited in other apps. The stories I see from my church and local businesses are amazing. These people are putting a lot of time into creating incredible, professional looking stories.

Why doesn’t this happen on Snapchat? The answer is found in this app update that popped up in my feed about two weeks ago:

Snapchat used to have this weird white box around any post that you didn’t take directly with Snapchat’s camera. It was awkward. The idea was to force people to use the Snapchat camera.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. When something cool happens in front of you, what do you do? More than likely, you pull out your phone. Then what? Do you launch the stock camera app, Snapchat, Instagram, or something else? I think many, many, people would answer that they open Snapchat.

Snapchat wants to be your camera app. They want everything you capture on your phone to go through Snapchat first. And they want you to share every moment – as long as you captured it in their app.

I’m sure Instagram wants this too – but they’ve decided to take a different approach. Instagram has decided to let you post whatever you want to your story, whenever you want. Instagram is aiming for quality over quantity. Maximum engagement looks like this: Take lots of pictures, caption them quickly, and post them to your story. Curation is different: Take lots of pictures (using your full-quality stock camera app), and then post the best on your story.

There is no way I’m going to document my entire life using both Snapchat and Instagram. That’s why this battle is important. And Snapchat was just forced to give up some ground. Instagram copied Snapchat, that much is for sure. But I honestly think Instagram is doing the majority of the innovating in this space now. I guess copycatting can go both ways.


January App Review: Tiny Scanner

App: Tiny Scanner
Developer: Appxy
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android

After switching from Evernote to the new iOS Notes app (more on that in a future post), I lost the excellent Evernote document scanner.  Because of that, I needed a new app.  Enter Tiny Scanner.

Tiny Scanner is a simple app that pretty much does what it says.  You point the phone at a document and take a picture.  After that, it automatically selects what it thinks the region of the photo that contains the page, and you adjust that as needed.

Then the magic happens.  Have you ever taken a picture of a document with the camera app?  I’m guessing the photo didn’t come out very well.  I mean, I’m sure it was usable, but it’s certainly not pretty.  The paper is an off-white, the page probably isn’t completely straight, and there’s a big shadow of your hand on half the page.  Tiny Scanner processes the photo into black and white, with a truly white background and nice, crisp, dark text.

And that’s honestly about it.  You can choose between a black and white document, a color document, or just the unprocessed photo.  You can also choose how dark the text is, sort of like a photocopier.  Then you just save it as a PDF, and share it to any app.

One more cool thing – what happens if you already took that awful, discolored, crooked photo?  You could go dig up the original document again, or you can simply import the photo in Tiny Scanner, and it’ll do it’s regular processing.  Neat!

There’s lots of share options that Tiny Scanner gives you, but most of them require the $5 Pro version.  However, if you click “Open In,” you’ll get the default iOS share sheet (which I prefer to almost any app-generated share sheet), you can share to Notes, Evernote, Dropbox, and many other apps.  Since I’m using the Notes app, that means I don’t need the Pro version.  One more limitation with the free version: you can only have two scans saved in the app at one time.  Again, since I’m exporting everything to Notes, this isn’t really an issue, but it’s sort of a pain to have to delete old documents every time.

A document scanner was basically the only thing I lost when I jumped ship from Evernote, and Tiny Scanner filled that gap nicely.  It looks nice, it’s simple to use, and it works great.  What more could I ask for?  ••

iPhoneography is a Real Thing

Last weekend I went on a backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail down here in Georgia.  The weather was perfect, and there wasn’t a lot of fog, so the views were stunning.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my iPhone.  Instead, I had my brother’s old Kodak point and shoot from circa 2008.  It’s a good camera, but for some reason it wasn’t giving me the shots I was looking for on this trip.  It was really disappointing.  I did get some pretty good shots, but the lighting was less than great on some of them.  This got me thinking about the iPhone as a camera – not as a cell phone camera that you use to take awful pictures when you don’t have a good camera, but as a real camera.

Apple claims that people take more pictures every day with the iPhone than they do with any other camera.  They say this is because it “makes it so incredibly easy.”  I couldn’t agree more.  I’m not a photography expert, and I don’t know how to use any advanced photography features, but simple things like photo brightness are so unbelievably straight forward on the iPhone.  To adjust the lighting in a picture, just tap the spot you’d like auto brightness to adjust to.  Still not happy?  Slide your finger up or down a bit to make finer adjustments.  This simplicity is what makes the iPhone such a great camera for normal people like me.  There’s nothing to it – you just tap on what’s important and the phone does the rest.

But what about more professional photographers?  There will always be a place for dedicated cameras, but iOS 8 gave the pros more features as well.  Apple now allows manual control of camera features such as shutter speed and white balance.  These advanced features can’t be used in the stock camera app, but third-party apps like VSCOcam can take full advantage of these manual adjustments.  Again, this doesn’t make the iPhone a professional grade camera, but it does open up a whole new world to amateurs looking to dive a little deeper.

“Now wait a minute,” you might be saying, “doesn’t that Kodak camera also has adjustments like that?”  I’m sure it does.  However, when I’m taking pictures, I’m often looking to get a quick shot and then move on.  I tried mashing a few buttons on the Kodak to bring up some sort of controls, but I got nothing.  This is my point about the iPhone, it’s just so easy.  Now truly anyone can take, if not a fantastic photo, a perfectly good photo, and they can do it with ease. This is not a fact to be taken lightly.

There’s one more thing that’s great about the iPhone’s camera, and that’s the ability to share.  The internet is a fantastic place to share photos, and the easiest way to do this is through our phones (since many photos are already stored on there anyway).  In order to share my backpacking photos, however, I first had to go home and plug the SD card into my laptop.  Then I had to import them and let them sync to iCloud Photo Library (more on that in a future post).  If I had taken these pictures on my iPhone, they would have begun uploading the moment I got back on WiFi.  Sure, they still would have taken a while to load into cloud storage, but at least I could have sent a few pictures to people over iMessage while I was waiting to share the entire album.

These are some of the many reasons why the iPhone is a great camera.  But there’s one more big one: we always have our phones with us.  I am a person who believes that more photos is a good thing.  Sure, sometimes the good photos get buried in all the junk, but I know that I have often gotten great memories from a shot I took on a whim.  Plus, it’s quicker to pull a phone out of a pocket than to retrieve a point and shoot from a backpack.  This means that I can get shots that I otherwise would have missed completely.  The iPhone is definitely a revolutionary camera.  I for one hope it continues to be.  ••

Ok, so I got some good photos on this trip

OK, so I got some good photos on this trip