I recently introduced my mother, a self-professed luddite, to the social photo-sharing app Instagram. It was a magical experience. In less than fifteen minutes, my mother was using faux HDR to bring out the midtones in her photos, slapping some frames on them, and sharing them across her just-created Instagram friends list (populated with many more Facebook-sourced names than either of us expected). None of the recent controversy surrounding Instagram’s new terms of service mattered to my mom in this new world of photo-sharing, her first encounter with such a single-purpose social app. Its instant appeal outweighed all other concerns.

I’d wager that’s a story that played itself out in many households this holiday season, with first-time smartphone users getting a feel for the Instagram ropes at the urging of friends and family. But despite its blockbuster status, Instagram is marginalized -even demeaned- by a sizable chunk of the geek populace.

Discussing the objections to Instagram is important because many of the app’s detractors hail from the Windows Phone camp. That’s largely due to the fact that Windows Phone doesn’t yet support Instagram, and despite what some old rumors contended, more recent ones suggest it’ll be a while before it does. That means members of the ever-vigilant Microsoft fan base can often be found in comment sections across the internet, questioning why Instagram is even relevant.

The reality, though, is this: in the countries where it’s available, Instagram is more than relevant. It’s more than significant. It’s huge, and it’s absence on Windows Phone is a legitimate handicap for the platform.

Like pre-beard Riker was to Star Trek: The Next Generation.

First, a refresher. I’ve talked a little on the Pocketnow Weekly and in previous pieces about why Instagram is important, but in brief: it’s a much better app than the snobs critics give it credit for. I know it’s kind of meta-hip to make fun of a hipster-ish app like Instagram, but it’s time to stop marginalizing this massive network of users.

The popular criticism maintains that Instagram is only about “ruining” existing photos with corny filters. While filters are a big part of the experience, those who would dismiss Instagram on that basis miss the point. It’s not about the hip colors or the (excellent) faux HDR – it’s about the sharing and the socializing. Instagram would be nothing without its massive network of users communicating with one another, swapping photos, comments, likes, and hashtags millions of times per day.

People often counter that Facebook, king of social media, is a suitable alternative — but it isn’t. Where Facebook is a one-stop supermarket for all things social, Instagram is a speciality shop catering to a particular need. It provides a place to share photos with people who just want to see photos – not videos, not status updates, not FarmVille games. It’s a community built around sharing content in a single medium. And it does that exceedingly well, backing it up with everything from geo-tag filtering to personalized follower listings to hashtag-based search.

Pictured: useful stuff.

None of that, though, will convince a stalwart anti-Instagrammer of the platform’s worth. What, then, about raw statistics?

According to an interview with Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook -the new corporate owner of the photo-sharing powerhouse- Instagram’s user base already exceeded 100 million users as of 11 September. That, coupled with the insane amount of money Facebook paid for the company -a cool billion dollars- is impressive enough. But consider also what that says about Instagram’s growth rate: the platform’s user base numbered just 80 million a little over a month prior, on July 26th. Less than three months before that, the subscriber count was at 50 million. Instagram isn’t just growing; it’s exploding. Microsoft desperately needs to get a piece of that action.

If statistics don’t put the lotion in your basket, try this contention on for size: Windows Phone and Instagram would go together incredibly well.

Like peas an’ carrots.

That’s most obvious in hardware: Nokia has put a lot of effort into the camera capabilities -PureView and otherwise- of its Lumia lineup. While I’ve found the camera on the Lumia 920 lacking in a few areas, I’ve also found it to be one of the best smartphone cameras I’ve used overall – and indisputably THE best when it comes to low-light situations. The best mate for outstanding camera hardware is outstanding camera software, and like it or not, part of that equation is third-party apps like Instagram. Sure, I like some existing editing apps, like Nokia’s Creative Studio and Schulte Software’s Pictures Lab, but neither of them enjoys the social features or user base of Instagram.

The software story doesn’t end there. In its current iteration on Android and iOS, Instagram is an “app” in the traditional sense – an excellent one, but still a siloed bundle of features and functions. With the exception of Android’s share-from-gallery functionality, the Instagram experience on either platform is a self-contained experience: you jump into Instagram, do your business, and jump out.

Microsoft’s partial rejection of the typical “apps are everything” mentality in favor of aggregated platform-level hubs like Me and People means the Instagram experience on a Windows Phone could be extraordinary. Imagine the app integrated not just as a shareable point from the Gallery, but as its own special Lens on a Windows Phone 8 device. Tie that in with the Me and People hubs, with their constant updates and deep integration, and you’ve got a recipe for success not just in terms of attracting Instagram users to the platform, but keeping them happier on Windows Phone than they’d be on either iOS or Android.

In the meantime, we’ll just look on longingly from behind our live tiles.

Whether you’re looking at its installed base, its high-profile owners, its explosive growth rate, or its addictive feature set, it’s easy to see why Instagram would be an asset to the Windows Phone platform. In the absence of hopeful news from either Microsoft or Facebook regarding the feasibility of such a future, however, many Windows Phone defenders continue to insist that Instagram is not important. To these folks I say: wake up. It doesn’t matter if you like the platform, hate it, or couldn’t care less either way. Something this significant needs representation on Windows Phone, and it needs to happen soon if Microsoft wants to build the momentum they’ve finally started accruing.


Instagram stats sources: Mashable, Cnet

Instagram hashtag screenshot via Smartrecruiters.com

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