Fact: Even Instagram Isn’t Ready for Its Own Pinch-to-Zoom Feature

Fact: Even Instagram Isn’t Ready for Its Own Pinch-to-Zoom Feature

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?”

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13 Comments
Tam Nguyen's picture

You forgot to mention: no one freaking browses IG with 2 hands.

Adam Ottke's picture

You do if you're serious enough about it ;-)

Palmer Woodrow's picture

Because of the idiotic lack of zoom.

Ariel Martini's picture

maybe they'll stop resizing

Adam Ottke's picture

I think they'll always have to resize and compress to some extent just to save the load on their servers. But to what extent is the question. They need to seriously improve quality if this feature is supposed to be taken as anything other than a light-hearted joke.

Jonathan Reid's picture

Your article is written on one assumption, that Instagram was/is meant for photographers. It was always meant for cellphone snaps and photographers hijacked it. We have to take our high res images, retouched in Photoshop and stored on our computers and then upload them as tiny images onto devices with tiny screens. Photographers don't love Instagram because photography looks great on it. They love it because of the masses that use it.

For the casual user, being able to pinch and zoom is great. That group selfie you were in where you can barely see yourself, no problem now with pinch and zoom. Want to see what toy that happy kid is playing with, pinch and zoom.

But look it that ugly compression and artifacting you say. The average user won't care at all.

Jeremy Jones's picture

Yes, this. So much this. IG is not a photographer's platform and was never intended to be. It's great that we are able to use it as one, but the author is basically demanding that Denny's shelve the waffles and roll out the filet mignon.

Tony Northrup's picture

1) You don't have to zoom. 2) Some phones have really small screens. 3) Some people have poor vision.

geoffreybadner's picture

It amazes me the level of demands that people put on app developers for something they don't have to pay for. Instagram is FREE. It cost us (photographers) nothing to use an showcase, gallery, advertising platform (or whatever you want to call it) that attracts thousands of free eyeballs a week, day or hour depending on your follower status. Be grateful.

And as an ex User Experience designer who use to develop apps, i have to say that while a few of the author's feature requests mentioned above do seem like no-brainers, it's important to understand that others would cost IG considerable cash to implement. For example, to store and display higher quality images (of which over 70 million are posted everyday), it would require a considerable upgrade in server storage, bandwidth usage, etc on IG's part. Even with pockets as deep as Facebook's, that's not something that you can just roll out overnight.

Adam Ottke's picture

Yes, very true. Good points. But they could also work with hardware companies to begin supporting/converting to/implementing any one of the newer image formats that features better compression. I don't know what everyone is waiting for ;-)

Palmer Woodrow's picture

I can't believe this article is BITCHING about a long-overdue feature, whose absence has been an embarrassment to Instagram. You get the functionality FREE with phone SDKs, so it should have been there from day one.

Don't like it? Don't use it. Cut the whining.

Sean Molin's picture

Older article, but it's worth mentioning that as of October 2017 their max resolution is still only 1080px linear. Even 1200 is giving them unwarranted praise.

Adam Ottke's picture

Yeah...1200 is the vertical resolution for vertical images. I think they still store a 1080 x 1350 image, but display a 960 x 1200 even today...although I haven't checked in a while. To your point, it's still confusing why this hasn't gotten better, especially when they're storing at least slightly higher resolution images. And yet, the obvious answer (let's answer that question myself, Adam!) is that even the slightest resolution increase has massive impacts on the server end in terms of cost... Still, displays are even sharper now. It's probably time for an upgrade/update soon...