Instagram's Windows App: How Not to Launch a Product
It's tough to launch a new product without flaws, particularly in high tech, where there are so many ways for unexpected problems to ship, whether through outright bugs or questionable design choices. But you can at least expect companies to put all the basics into place.
Let's take a moment to review the context. Instagram is the company that Facebook paid $300 million in cash and 23 million shares of common stock. Although the deal was worth roughly $1 billion when made, given the current value of Facebook's stock, the total is now close to $1.4 billion.
Facebook wanted Instagram because people were so into easily sharing photos. Just point your smartphone, take the pic, apply image filters for that oh-so-retro look, and upload the results to show your many friends.
Ease of use is great. But a photo app that can't directly control the camera isn't easy to use. In fact, you might wonder what went through people's minds. There are dozens of featured photo apps for Windows Phone and many seem to be able to control the camera.
Supposedly Nokia had negotiated hard to get Instagram to release a Windows Phone version of the app. Reportedly the offers included cash and developer resources. What did Nokia and Microsoft get? An app that can't even do the most basic function that a potential user might expect. And Microsoft expected a real version.
Was there some technical problem? Maybe, but it seems hard to believe that such a basic issue was beyond the reach of Instagram working with platform experts. And even if there was a technical issue, it doesn't matter. Releasing the app in this state is like shipping a sailboat that doesn't have a rudder. Maybe you can put something together to let you steer, but you shouldn't have to. The platform would have been better off with nothing from Instagram, and Instagram (and Facebook) would have been better off not looking like they ship half-baked products. They all should have known better.
Sure, consumers are used to not getting everything they want, but who expects them to do without what should be the bare minimum? Facebook, Instagram, Nokia, and Microsoft, apparently. Whatever happened to professional pride? Or is that only available in the 2.0 version?
ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist
Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.