We receive a lot of notifications of new photo apps here as well as we scout the internet for news of start-ups with a photographic touch to them. Every time, after testing it, we ask the same question: is it good enough to make people leave Instagram and use this instead?”. The answer is usually no.

Why do we use Instagram as a benchmark? For multiple reasons. It is primarily a photo app, it offers editing tools ( filters), storage and has a strong sharing network. About 90% of the features any photo app offers. Furthermore, it shows no sign of slowing down. With 50 million new users in the last 6 months adding to the already existing 200 million, it is accelerating.  Finally, it is the darling of Madison Avenue and brands are pouring millions into it. That, in itself, shows that no new photo app has even made a dent into its current dominance.

Don’t read this wrong. It doesn’t mean that Instagram is the ultimate photo tech app and that it is perfect. Far from it. But it’s the app to beat for anyone to have a chance to succeed in this space.

A good example of our benchmark question is Snapchat. The 3 years old company has shown significant impact in the photo tech space and yes, it certainly makes Instagram user switch. With 700 million snaps shared a day against 60 million for Instagram, it certainly passes our benchmark test with flying colors.

When one looks at the Appannie chart of top downloaded photo apps in the world, the results shows mostly , ( if not only), apps that offer editing tools, whether filters, text or stickers. While  it might certainly reveal a market need, it is certainly not grounds for a successful company. There is nothing more volatile and precarious than an editing app since it doesn’t offer any reasons for users to be loyal. A new app comes out with a cool in-the-moment filter and off they go. It is a constant race for innovation and in the long-term bound to failure. There are two many occasions to trip and fall. The best one can hope is to experience a success reminiscent to what goes on in the gaming world and sell the company at its peak.

Others, in search of stickiness, offer a sharing platform. But why would anyone post their images on their site if all their friends/family are already using Twitter/Pinterest/Facebook/Instagram/G+ ?  There needs to be a compelling reason for them to  becoming your product advocate and try to make their network switch.  And the competition is stiff.

The latest approach  has been where Instagram is the weakest : Photo Archiving. Companies like DropBox, Amazon and soon Apple are hard at work building the next photo mousetrap by offering a solution to what is rapidly becoming the biggest pain point in the photo tech space. With 880 billion photos to be taken in 2014, someone needs to store and more importantly, make photo searchable for future retrievable: The online shoebox is certainly Instagram’s Achilles heel and unless it builds a valuable solution that integrates Facebook, it’s owner, it might see its influence greatly diminish.

While there are still uncharted territories in the photo tech space ( 3D, image recognition, Light field, to name a few) that might lead to an explosive growth, the benchmark, for the moment, still remains Instagram. Until it shows signs of slowing down or even abandonment, we will keep on asking ourselves, every time we see a new app, “will it beat Instagram”

Author: Paul Melcher

Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur and Managing Director of Melcher System, a consultancy for visual technology firms. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo-based companies with already two successful exits.

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