Indie Microblogging by Manton Reece


“Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.” — Steve Jobs, introducing the iPhone

Smartphones changed photography. Between the 2007 introduction of the iPhone and the 2010 release of Instagram 1.0, the most popular camera brand based on upload stats for Flickr was Canon. By 2015 the iPhone had become the second most popular camera based on Flickr uploads, on its way to becoming the first.

Om Malik blogged about the appeal of iPhone photography even though he owned more expensive standalone cameras:

While these don’t compare to the high-end cameras and even pricer lens, they make the amateur in me feel encouraged about photography. I think this is the ultimate beauty of iPhone — it has made photography not scary. It has removed technology and made it just an act of creation.

That same year, Phil Schiller was John Gruber’s guest at The Talk Show live at WWDC 2015. They talked about how iPhone had become “the” leading camera company in the world.

It’s a point that John Gruber would echo again and again, including in his review of the iPhone XS a few years after that interview with Phil Schiller. It seemed that Apple had not only become the leading camera company but also had an insurmountable advantage:

iPhones can’t compete with big dedicated cameras in lens or sensor quality. It’s not even close. The laws of physics prevent it. But those traditional camera companies can’t compete with Apple in custom silicon or software, and their cameras can’t compete with iPhones in terms of always-in-your-pocket convenience and always-on internet connectivity for sharing.

In his 2009 book, Chase Jarvis captured this shift to the iPhone becoming more than good enough. The best camera is the one you have with you contained hundreds of photos, all taken on the original iPhone, but it also contained permission for us to use a camera that wasn’t technically the very best:

Inherently, we all know that an image isn’t measured by its resolution, dynamic range, or anything technical. It’s measured by the simple—sometimes profound, other times absurd or humorous or whimsical—effect that it can have upon us. If you can see it, it can move you.

With this introduction, Jarvis drew a line: the mobile phone was now good enough. It was good enough to create art. The quality of a photo was in the subject and composition, not in megapixels.

And the iPhone was going to get better. It was in this window of time as smartphones were taking off that Instagram arrived. Yet the founders of Instagram almost missed it. Originally intending to build an app for check-ins, in the spirit of Dodgeball early on and Foursquare and Gowalla later, founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger noticed that their users were increasingly using the app for photos. As Kevin recalled in an interview for the podcast How I Built This, one key insight was introducing filters:

We just need to be able to make people feel like their photos are worthy of sharing.

Two other qualities of Instagram helped it succeed. They were both limitations, not features. Instagram had no reposts, and it required all photos to be square.

This section is framed around HTML and photography, but it’s about more than photos. It’s about how decisions we make in software design (and how that software is used) affect our interaction with platforms and the web.

Next: Influence and reposts →