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Facebook’s Camera App Release Confirms Instagram’s Importance

The homepage of Facebook's new camera app.

Well, that didn’t take long.

Rumors and theories flew after Facebook surprised us all with its $1 billion ninja-like acquisition of Instagram and now, just under two months later, the reason behind the acquisition seems clear.

Facebook recently released a brand-new mobile camera app for Apple iOS that’s uncanny in its likeness to Instagram. The new similarities: users can upload multiple photos to Facebook at the same time; they can rotate, crop, and apply one of 15 filters to their photos; and friends’ photos are collectively shown in one feed.

It’s a vast improvement over the photo functionality built into the Facebook application. And yet… it’s not quite the same as Instagram.

Many speculate that Facebook originally intended this app — which was presumably in development long before the acquisition was even a blip on their radar — to act in direct competition to Instagram. But that competition would have left something to be desired. So far, Facebook camera app users have complained about the shoddy camera controls, and the subpar quality of the filters.

Maybe Facebook knew its limitations all along. Maybe that was the driving force behind their sudden Instagram buyout, and the reason behind the hefty pricetag.

If you can’t beat it, buy it.

So now that Facebook has the glory of Instagram in its greedy grasp, why bother releasing the half-baked camera app at all?

Like so many things in business, it’s unclear. Had the team behind it invested so much of their time and effort that they felt they had to push it out? Or does Facebook merely intend it to be a stopgap; a single step on the staircase to full Instagram-like integration — much like the recent two-filter upgrade of its non-smartphone mobile app ‘Facebook for Every Phone’?

Facebook may not have had the app-building skills to compete with Instagram, but they have the APIs — the application programming interfaces that allow different software to talk to each other. Which likely means that Facebook is moving to position itself as the largest photo-sharing aggregator in the social media universe. They want to be the go-to app for users to see their friends’ photos, plucked from all over the web and streamed in one place.

And it looks like they’re well on their way.

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