Although its business practices have shifted more than once since the Facebook takeover, most of us still love Instagram for its ease of use, reach, and simplicity. But today's app update makes little sense... today. On one hand, the new pinch-to-zoom update is extremely late. The iPhone had this feature since inception (granted, cell phone photos were hardly a thing prior to 2007). On the other hand however, Instagram’s linear photo resolution of 1,200 pixels already comes rather close to the native horizontal resolution of larger phones like the iPhone 6 Plus. Zooming into these photos optimized (read: downsized) for these displays looks absolutely dreadful. What are they thinking?
If resizing weren’t enough, Instagram severely compresses its photos so they just barely make a passable cut within the resolution of today’s high-density retina displays. Pinching (or rather flicking out to zoom in) reveals only the tell-tale, ugly artifacts of liberal JPEG compression — who wants to see that?
There must be a greater purpose behind Instagram’s latest update. This is a company that tests dozens of small variations of a change across hundreds of millions of devices. This is a company that waits years to implement analytics features upon which third-party developers, in the meantime, made millions. Facebook or no Facebook, this is a company that doesn’t take feature changes lightly.
Yet today we watched as the company launched a feature that wasn’t rumored because it wasn’t tested (at least not very widely or publicly). In its current implementation, pinch-to-zoom is incredibly gimmicky. Images pop out of their frames so we can see less detail and pop back in when we accidentally release our fingers. Enlarged images don’t wait for us to reposition our fingers. They don’t sit there and let us rotate them as though twisting around a physical 4x6 on the table. We can’t do anything more unexpected with pinch-to-zoom, we can’t use a gesture to send them somewhere, and we can’t see any extra fine details in a higher-resolution version of the photograph. So why does Instagram want us to get used to the idea of zooming into photos?
Obviously, these features could be coming. Instagram could combat the loss in quality that comes with the interrupted experience that ads and a reorganized timeline of photos bring with an increase in resolution to help bolster the experience of enjoying the actual content across the platform. Multi-touch gestures are completely absent from the Instagram experience, but could lead to shortcuts in sharing or reposting photos. Yet unfortunately, Instagram's statement on Facebook doesn't give me too much hope for new features based on this one. With talk of how you can zoom "into every detail," it doesn't seem like they're aware of how bad these zoomed photos appear to us here on Earth.
Starting today, you can pinch to zoom on photos and videos in feed, on profiles and on Explore. Dive into an adorable puppy’s smile or into every detail of your friend’s new shirt.
― Instagram via Facebook
What else might come of this currently useless feature is up in the air, at least for us. But one thing is for sure: Somewhere in an open, lush, all-glass, non-cubicle, Silicon Valley office is at least one Instagram employee that was unaware of today's impending update and is whole-heartedly asking along with the rest of us, “What is the plan with this one?”