When the White House starts to use Instagram, I guess that’s a sign that mobile retro photography has really gone mainstream. From a mobile strategy perspective, the success of apps like Instagram, Hipstamatic, and others is an excellent demonstration of how important a developer platform is to the success of a software ecosystem.
I think that a developer platform succeeds when developers start to surprise you with apps and services that use the platform in unexpected (and even unintended) ways. After all, that’s one of the best reasons for opening up a platform in the first place; to attract apps and solutions that you can’t think of yourself.
I’m fairly confident that mobile phone designers measure the success of a phone camera in terms of image clarity and accurate color and light balance, and want to deliver the best resolution for the cost of the device. From that perspective, apps like Instagram, that deliberately distort and “damage” the image, are counter-intuitive. That’s exactly why there’s a need for external developers with no preconceived notions to come up with those solutions themselves.
Not only are retro apps counter-intuitive to phone designers, they also make make it harder to define what makes a “good” camera phone (as opposed to a good phone camera). For example, which is better: the Nokia N8, with a 12 MP sensor so good that you can film a feature movie with it, or the iPhone 4, with lower picture quality but more flexibility through camera and photo apps?
By the way, I certainly understand the attraction (even though I’m not entirely sure why). Of course, since I have an Android device, I use Retro Camera instead of Instagram or Hipstamatic.