On Thursday, Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom announced an update that will allow users to shoot and share 15-second videos composed of one or more clips.
When Facebook acquired the popular photo-sharing app for a staggering $1 billion last year, Silicon Valley’s attention shifted to nascent video startups and speculation about which would become the “next Instagram.” Despite the emergence of many contenders—including Vine, an app released by Twitter in January, which allows sharing of very short videos (see “Twitter Releases Video App Called Vine”)—it looks as if Instagram intends to take that title itself.
The move was expected, and it makes sense. As smartphones and tablets become more powerful, and as wireless networks keep getting faster, people are sharing more photos and videos than ever before.
According to Systrom, who created Instagram with cofounder Mike Krieger in September 2010, video was actually a part of Burbn, the location-sharing app that Instagram grew out of. But it was excluded from Instagram initially because the team felt it wasn’t possible to include it in a simple, visually appealing way.
Smartphones and tablets have come a long way since then, however. In addition to gaining better cameras and processors and more built-in media storage over the past few years, which makes it easier to take and store videos, current smartphones can access faster wireless networks—making it easier to share and view videos as well. All this has helped apps like Vine take root, but there is still no clear runaway success. (It should be noted, however, that Vine is currently the third-most-popular free app in Apple’s App Store; Instagram is in 17th place.)
Yet with 130 million users each month before the rollout of the video feature, which is available as an update to Instagram’s iOS and Android apps, Instagram is at an advantage over competitors, Vine included, that require people to download and install a wholly new app in order to start creating content.
Instagram hopes this head start—plus the speed, simplicity, and beauty that Systrom emphasized while demonstrating the new feature to reporters at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park Thursday morning—will let it do for video sharing what it has done for photos.
Taking a video with Instagram is very similar to taking a photo. Users with the latest update will see that a video-camera icon has been added to the photo-capturing screen. As with Vine, you take a video by holding down the video-camera button; removing your finger allows you to stop and start recording within a single clip, so you can change camera angles. A video can range from three to 15 seconds and can contain multiple mini-clips within it.
Vine is similar, but with a limit of six seconds of video; Systrom diplomatically said he doesn’t see one as better than the other, but he added that after fiddling with different lengths, 15 seconds seemed like “that Goldilocks moment where it just feels right.”
Instagram video creators can also adjust the look of their videos with 13 new color filters, and an anti-shake feature called Cinema can be applied as well. One additional feature, called Systrom, was presented with particular pride: the ability to choose your own cover image in place of a default image (which tends to be the first frame in a video).
Instagram isn’t likely to simply sweep competitors to the sidelines, though: Vine’s founders started fighting back even before Instagram’s Thursday announcement, showing off upcoming features in some Vine videos.
Hear more from Google at EmTech 2014.