Five minutes with Instagram for Android

Unfamiliar with the wonder that is Instagram, I take a look at the latest n' greatest addition to the Android app catalog.

In case you hadn't heard, Instagram's now on Android. And it's made a lot of people angry.

Not Android people of course; they're ecstatic. iPhone stalwarts, however, are less than enthused, for unknown reasons. Maybe they don't like sharing, or perhaps they're unconsciously aware of the intensely likely possibility that adding lots of kids to your clubhouse makes for a pretty loud and smelly clubhouse. I don't know.

Whatever the reason is, Instagram on Android is a good thing. It's good primarily because it opens up the app to many more people - perhaps an obvious conclusion, but one lots of angry iPhone users have probably ignored.

And it's good for me too, because, as an Android user, I had never gotten a chance to use Android on my own either. Was Instagram as delightful as people had been saying? Would it spark in me a flurry of artistic creativity? Only by using the app could I find out the answers to these questions.

So, in the spirit of curiosity, journalism, and sheer gumption, I did just that. I downloaded the app from Google Play, installed it, and, after creating an account (Username: R2__B2. Follow me?), took a picture of the most dull thing I could think of -- my fire escape.

Then came the filters. Amaro? Rise? Hudson? Were these the names given to the oh-so-hip effects applied to decidedly non-hip things like sunsets and shoes? Apparently, yes.

The filters, however, both confused and overwhelmed me. There were too many of them, for one, and their names seemed arbitrary and useless (I couldn't tell you what the name "Walden" has to do with anything, for example.) It was here that I realized that there's a sort of game to choosing the proper Instagram filter, and you have to have an eye for which one best suits your photo. (For the shot above I went with Sutro, though there was a fleeting struggle between it, X-Pro, and Hudson.)

Of course, in the end, the final product only vaguely resembled the photo that I had initially taken. I guess this is the central idea behind Instagram, or at least why so many people enjoy using it. It takes the familiar and boring, shifts the color palette, and creates something entirely new. Even the most mundane object (your foot, a cup of coffee, a cat) is transformed into something unique and different once you lay a filter on top of it. Everything's a readymade.

After the filter is applied, Instagram introduces its social side. The uploading step gives you the option to inform members of Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and Tumblr that you've just uploaded a picture. There's also the option to Geotag the image. I have zero interest in doing any of these things, nor do I have any idea what I'm supposed to put in the caption field. So I just leave things as is.

So with no social media connections, the photo sits alone. This, I realize, is a major mistake, and misses literally half the appeal of using Instagram in the first place. After all, what's the point of taking fabulously artistic photos if you fail to share said photos with the people of the world?

Prying further, Instagram really is barren until you follow some people. With the exception of the popular photos (which, notably, is populated by entries from "kardashians_on_e", "girlzworld" et al.) there's really not much going on by default on the app. Which is either good or bad depending on which side of the "less is more" fence you are on.

So far, I'm mostly indifferent to the whole thing.