Photo finish: Upstart Photovine vs. reigning champ Instagram

insta-vine

Google wants to eat everyone’s cake. Android successfully got in on the smartphone action iOS was enjoying, and Google+ is nipping at Facebook’s heels. Photovine, the photo-sharing app built by Google’s Slide team, is now open to public use after an initial beta period, and is gunning for Instagram‘s crown. How does it stack up against the champ?

Round 1: Sign-up

I was sort of hoping that Photovine would allow me to just sign in using my Google credentials, but maybe because Slide operates like an independent startup within Google, that’s not the case. Signing up is fairly easy though. It consists of just one screen, where you enter your name and email address, choose a username, and password, and optionally supply your phone number if you want to speed along the friend-finding process.

Instagram also features just one screen for sign-up. Enter your email, username, password and optionally a phone number to get started. The two are nearly identical, actually, with the only difference being that Instagram prompts you to choose a profile photo as well, although this is also actually optional.

Advantage: This is nearly too close to call, but I’m going to give it to Instagram. The photo profile prompt should mean that more people join with a profile that’s at least somewhat identifiable to people looking for contacts.

Round 2: Network and activity

This is unfair for Photovine, which just opened up membership to the general public today, but it’s worth noting that even after a month of beta use, I still only have three contacts on either Twitter, Facebook or in my address book, and I travel in early adopter circles. Even among the people I knew that I could find to follow, there wasn’t any content shared yet.

Compared to Instagram, which has 150 million photos shared as of the beginning of this month, and more than 7 million users, that’s not good. It means Photovine has a steep hill to climb, since most won’t require two social photo sharing networks that are pretty similar overall.

Advantage: Instagram. If you’re new to photo-sharing and want to go where your friends are most likely to be, there’s no question the older service is the better choice, unfair as that may be.

Round 3: Taking photos

Photovine uses a custom photo-taking interface that adds some visual flair to the standard iOS camera app, and allows you to switch between front and back cameras, choose whether the flash is on, off or set to auto, and grab photos from your on-device library if you’d rather share one you already took.

Instagram also uses a custom interface, but one that is more visually minimal. It also offers the ability to switch between cameras, set the flash, and get photos from your library. Instagram also allows you to custom-crop your photos to fit its square publishing format, while Photovine crops automatically. This might be either an advantage or an annoyance depending on your perspective.

Advantage: Photovine. For me personally, the autocrop gets it right far more often than it gets it wrong, which outweighs the extra step required with Instagram for every shot.

Round 4: Special features

Like the Badger app I recently covered, Photovine groups images around topics, called “vines.” You can add an image to a vine after you take it and before you upload it to Photovine, and you can either search for existing vines or create your own. You can then browse vines from the app’s main screen using the relevant icon on the bottom navigation bar. From the Vines tab, you can check Fresh or Popular vines, and see Vines you choose to “Watch” (or follow, in other words).

At this point, most will be familiar with Instagram’s special feature: the ability to add filters to your photos. This also happens right after you take or select an image, and Instagram has been pretty good about adding more selection as time passes. The filters are a pretty good way of making washed out or otherwise deficient mobile phone photos visually striking and interesting.

Advantage: This is another category that might depend on your personal preference, but I’m liking the vines concept so far. It makes browsing photos a little less haphazard, and because it really creates a small select group that goes beyond your own personal network, it also embraces a more playful side of social sharing.

Decision

Based purely on how it works, looks and feels, I’m going to have to give this one to Photovine. It really is a great product with a lot of promise, and unlike something like Color, it adds an element to mobile photo-sharing that actually enhances the experience. Once it grows its network, the vines concept should work even better. That’s not to say it will necessarily be able to take Instagram’s crown; the older app has a big lead, and the differences between the two are actually very minimal besides the vines concept, which may not be enough to sway some on its own. Still, it’s nice to see some decent options pop up in mobile photo networking apps.

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