Review: Half-Revised Instagram UI 3.2

IG 3.2 iTunes Update Screen This article was originally posted on colleenl.in.

I’m a heavy user of Instagram, and was excited (NEW FILTER!) to see that they’d updated their app. These updates, though, seem half-baked and inconsistent; it feels like IG’s design team are making incremental changes to the UI, and publishing them as they go. Only half of the interface has changed, and the designs of the new screens are trying hard to be “slick”, which clashes, since the “old” IG UI’s still there for most screens with a gentler, less-tech atmosphere.

Instagram has introduced ingenious gestures like the double-tap to fave, and a UI feel copied by so many other apps. Its successes have spawned the current filter craze on Twitter, Flickr, and other photo-related apps. There are new UI features that assist the user in this update, but the app is slowly losing the features that at one time made me such a staunch advocate, and I don’t know if I will be wary of or welcome the next update.

In This New Instagram UI Version

  • All-new camera
  • Instagram folder
  • New filter: Willow
  • Shoot-to-post task flow UI changes
  • Tilt-shift changes
  • New welcome screen
  • 4sq button in location pages

All-New Camera

I haven’t used the new camera much because I don’t trust IG’s camera to keep my photos. It used to also keep a copy of the original image in the phone after saving, but it hasn’t done that in a quite a few iterations, at least not for me [update: it’s worked the last 2 times I tried it, but I’ll never fully trust it]. And it never saves images when the camera crashes the app. I’ll give it a shot some time, but not with any important photos.

IG also used to save filtered images to the camera roll before posting, which meant that you could filter a single image several times over and *then* post it with multiple filters without spamming your followers. No longer possible. Unless it’s 2am and most of your followers are in bed and you can post/delete/repost/delete. You can also put your phone in “Airplane mode” (iPhone) and disable the app that way to multi-filter. Augh.

Instagram Folder

A bit annoyed at the invasion of my photo stream, making a folder in my phone. Without my permission. And without opt-out. Presumptuous to say the least. I sync my photos to iPhoto so now I will have a new iPhoto album with Instagram pictures FOR WHAT. What about the past 2 years of photos? Urgh. Forcing this on the user as a “convenience” sounds like something Facebook would do. And since FB now owns Instagram it concerns me. What’s next?

Filters

An image filtered in Gotham.

An image filtered in Gotham. Note the rich blacks, textured midtones… Such a lush filter.

Gotham

I’d hoped that IG was bringing back the much-loved Gotham filter, which had been thrown out when IG introduced “live filters”. Not in this update, even though live filters are being phased out. I really don’t understand the difference between “live” and “not-live” filters; I’ve never used them any differently than I do now (import, crop, filter, post). Perhaps this is because I never shoot from IG’s crash-prone camera.

Am. Dis. Gruntled. I still have hopes that IG will bring Gotham back someday, like some people still believe Elvis is alive, or that Bigfoot roams the Northwest.

I imagine people took photos that were too dark to use Gotham properly. But to me, rich darks, smooth midtones and bright highlights are what makes a really striking black and white image, and Gotham nailed it right on the head. You can still make a simulated Gotham filter in Photoshop, or by jumping through a serious set of hoops in iOS.

Willow

The new filter, Willow, is even less contrast-y than Inkwell, the only other black and white filter in Instagram. It simply desaturates, washes out the darks, brings up midtones, blands out the highlights. Which means, largely, BLAH.

It doesn’t make the average amateur image beautiful, but it doesn’t make it look like a black blob, like Gotham could.

Perhaps I am expecting too much from an app that seems strategically now to aim for the middle of the road instead of a more experienced photographer, but as a more experienced photographer, it’s now even less about the filters and more about the IG community I’ve built over the last two years.

Shoot-to-Post UI Changes

You have been assimilated.The new shoot-to-post process has the most significant UI changes, and the feel is an almost complete departure from IG’s past feel, as well as the feel of most other (legacy?) screens in the app.

Shoot Screen UI

The shoot screen activated when you press the “camera” icon in the bottom nav bar activates this pair of airlock doors with a stylized camera-y logographic on a dark background with a time-wasting animation sequence.

Wut.

This is a departure from the overall feel of Instagram. Now I want to go back to the older IG to see if there is a similar animation. I don’t remember one. Which makes this one stand out even more.

But why depart so much from the current style of Instagram — to point out that “hey this process is new and cool”? I don’t like that choice, when the rest of Instagram’s screens haven’t changed.

The shoot screen has rearranged a few icons, and added a Rule of Thirds grid, which would probably be helpful if I actually used the camera. There seems to be a lot of blank space in this screen, however, between the “cancel” button and the Grid, and to the left of the shoot button. This makes me as a user wonder if there are new features planned? Or did they just screw up the layout and not have anything to put there?

To the right, as in the last iteration of the app, is a button which triggers the ability to go into your library and import an image into IG. This is not explained well in any camera app I can think of, and I believe is an area of development for mobile UI, especially since there isn’t a “Camera Roll” icon established for iOS. Consistency here would pay off in terms of usability. The previous iteration of this screen was far-better-balanced, and appeared well-thought-out while this one has giant gaping holes and a total change in flavor.

In the actual shoot screen there’s a newfangled focus circle animation, which doesn’t seem to be better or worse than the old one, which begs the question – why change it? It’s actually more in line with the new half of the UI, which may indicates changes in the future to the REST of the UI’s feel. Grumble.

Scale and Crop

If draw images from your library, the Scale and Crop screen is shown. This is a bit different from the previous screen name, “Move and Crop”. Its title is a bit more informative, though it functions largely the same with pinch/drag/spread/double-tap-reset gestures.

Edit Screen

Side By Side - Edit Screens

L is the new IG edit screen, R Old IG edit screen

Post-crop or post-shoot, the next step is the Edit screen.A lot of furniture has been rearranged, but it’s largely the same living room, with a few usability improvements.

Neutral Changes:

  • the background gradient has been reversed
  • the image is fractionally smaller and bordered in the new edit screen
  • text buttons are starting to replace iconography (save/cancel)

Positive Changes:

  • filter buttons no longer overlap/obscure the image (removing the need for the arrow-down button that revealed the full image)
  • save/cancel is now alone at the top of the screen
  • all image-editing functions have been grouped below the image
  • rotate has been added

Tilt-Shift Changes

The new tilt-shift has me…concerned. The fade is a lot smoother and more gradual on the new tilt-shift, which I appreciate.

I can no longer use tilt-shift, however, to add a bit of character and focus to images. It often helped me frame my image by softening the four corners, but now no matter how I stretch the new tilt-shift, it won’t do this without blurring a majority of the image for me. Boo. It is operating more tilt-shift-y, but is in turn less useful for me.

 

Activity Feed Changes

Activity Feeds

Activity Feeds: L New IG, R Old IG

In the new interface the feed is darker, squarer, and more crammed-together. Gone is the breathing room between comments and images. This makes the feed feel crowded, and with 30 likes in a row of the same image, dizzying. It draws your eye to the right of the main content, instead of to the actual activity.

The rounded-off Following/News and refresh buttons at the top of the page contrast with the squareness of the feed images, and look like an accidental oversight instead of a design choice.

A new feature of the feed is the New Activity/Older dichotomy, which, while interesting, isn’t all that useful. While viewing the feed I had comments from 3 seconds ago as “new” and 15 seconds ago as “older”. While true, there was not a big enough difference between those times to merit a UI break between them. Perhaps this is more useful or meaningful for the user who only has one comment per day or week. I don’t consider myself to be a “popular” Instagrammer in that my photos to date get an average of 30-50 likes, not over 100 yet. If this feature is useless to me, I cannot imagine what chaos this screen would be like for someone who gets a significant amount of activity in their stream.

New Welcome Screen Design

This screen is only seen if you’re not currently logged in to Instagram, which is, for me when I log out to log into my OTHER Instagram accounts. A much more useful feature would have been support for multiple IG accounts. Most users will only see this when they DL the new app, and few care about it. Login screens are for logging in, not for sitting and wondering at a designer’s skills. Mentioning it in the release notes is silly to me, like bragging about a feature that isn’t actually a feature for anybody but the design team.

Foursquare Link

I haven’t played with the 4sq integration yet, though it seems to be nice. It plays well with Foursquare’s push to suggest cool places and become an app people use when they want to go somewhere, not just after they’ve decided and arrived (and thus a better ad revenue stream). It makes me think Instagram will be going the profit-seeking way and focus less on the community.

Conclusion

Does this little username display here portend multi-account support?Cropped IG Account SupportI’d hoped for Gotham and multi-account support, but they’re not here (yet). These new UI changes are likely following a choice to slicken-up Instagram’s feel, mainstream its capabilities, and refocus on the needs of the average FB user. I don’t see these changes directing community-building or appealing to the photographer community. It’s a perceptible directional nudge for IG, and while it could end up being part of a larger, more profitable end game for Facebook. I’m afraid that direction, though, will whittle Instagram down until it no longer has a flavor.

UPDATE:

I had this glitch show up after a 3.2 crash (on the camera of course). It went away after another app crash. My username showed above the icon that means “my profile” — none of my followers had that show up in their UI: does this mean that multi-account support is happening soon or being planned? I can’t imagine any other reason to indicate which user is active if only one user per app is supported.