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Interview with Instagram CEO about Mobile App Development

on April 10, 2012

Here’s an interview and article I produced last year with Kevin Systrom, CEO of Instagram, at the Mobilize Conference in San Francisco. I was there reporting for Dice.

I’m rather impressed with Instagram. Here’s yet another photo sharing app that has dominated an incredibly crowded space. To get a little insight in the development secrets of Instagram, I spoke with CEO Kevin Systrom at the Mobilize conference in San Francisco. His tips:

Understand the Difficulties of Mobile Development vs. the Web

Compared to mobile, Web development is easy. Mobile development simply compounds the problems you have online. Systrom’s examples:

  • More languages to manage – You have to deal with languages beyond HTML and Javascript, such as Objective-C and other native languages.
  • Phone behavior varies – Computer access is standardized. Not so with phones.
  • Manage connectivity – Not a concern with Web apps today, but a huge concern with phone apps that fall into the EDGE network or disconnect completely. How can your app handle that? Many simply shut down or freeze once the phone hits EDGE. You have to optimize your output for speed and inactivity of the network.

The Best Feature is Less Features

There are an endless number of photo sharing apps. How did Instagram succeed in such a crowded field? Systrom believes their success has to do with elements they didn’t put into the app. They purposely removed extraneous features and made it simple to use.

For example, to Systrom speed of upload is a major feature of Instagram. One way to get there was to reduce the quality of images. It’s kind of counterintuitive to a photo app, but it worked. In the most recent update of Instagram, filter render times have been reduced from four seconds down to four milliseconds. That’s made a huge impact on application speed.

Also filters, which traditionally have been an extra unused add-on slapped onto most image editing and sharing programs, are actually integral to the upload process for Instagram, used for two thirds of all uploads.

Move Quickly and Get the Details Right

“Putting out half-baked apps in mobile is the worst thing you can do,” says Systrom.

While users will put up with lack of functionality in Web development, and you have the flexibility of multiple iterations, mobile’s not the same. Systrom’s advice is to do fewer things, but do them better. Focus on the details that matter.

Systrom suggests you list out three things that matter most about your app and make sure every detail about them is working. For Instagram those things were application speed, distribution to other networks, and speed of upload.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

iPhone application development April 18, 2012 at 2:10 am

I think the instagram is here to change the photography niche world to change for better in the future. Though it is a readily available iphone and android app, one has to be very very careful while downloading as a malicious version of  the instagram is pushed onto the Russian android users that effectively tricks anyone by portraying the legitimate website! Beware!

William Romero April 25, 2012 at 10:47 pm

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iPhone Application Developer May 14, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Though it is a readily available iphone and android app, one has to be very very careful while downloading as a malicious version of  the instagram is pushed onto the Russian android users that effectively tricks anyone by portraying the legitimate website! Beware! still i can say that this will be amazing.

Ranvir July 22, 2016 at 8:09 pm

I have seen all this interview video and got very clearly information about app development. I want to know from many times the difference between mobile development and web development but I couldn’t get proper information from anywhere. but you have provided me proper information in very understandable manner. superb!

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