Just weeks after Facebook announced its intent to buy mobile photo-sharing app Instagram for close to a billion dollars, the company has announced Facebook Camera for iPhone, an app dedicated to shooting photos, applying filters, and batch uploading photos to your Timeline. The app was developed independently from Facebook for iOS by the Facebook Photos team, Photos product manager Dirk Stoop told me, and is focused on letting you share photos as quickly as possible and in higher-resolution than before. Facebook's iPhone app makes uploading multiple photos pretty cumbersome — the experience is far from reflexive. "If we have one minute of a users's time, what can we do to make it easier to share a moment?" he asked. To Stoop, sharing moments often means sharing multiple photos, which is the main focus of Facebook Camera. While you can shoot photos using a built-in camera and apply filters, uploading and browsing groups of photos is the goal. The app's rolling out now to all users in the App Store, and for some users, is already inside an "Editor's Choice" box.
How it works
When you open Facebook Camera, it detects any Facebook accounts you've associated with your iPhone. Once you're in, you're presented with a user interface that looks nothing like Facebook for iPhone and is a whole lot faster, too. The top left corner is permanently reserved for a camera button, which is flanked by a few small photo squares that represent the most recent photos in your Camera Roll. Below these pictures is a News Feed composed only of photos friends have uploaded. Swipe down on the News Feed to view the rest of your camera roll, from where you can tap checkmarks to select up to 30 photos to upload simultaneously. Tap a photo to view it full screen, crop, rotate, tag, and apply one of fifteen filters to your photo. A blue "compose" icon in the bottom right corner launches a screen where you can caption, tag, and post the photos you've chosen.
Heading back to the main News Feed in the app, as you scroll down, you'll notice that it's easy to swipe sideways to view multiple large photos inside one News Feed story. The News Feed in this app recalls the changes Facebook recently made to its mobile News Feed to display larger pictures. You can comment on, tag, or Like photos, but the app doesn't yet allow you to save photos others have taken. If you tap a person, you'll be taken to an abridged version of their profile that only includes photos they've recently taken, and an action arrow in the top right corner zaps you into Facebook for iPhone to view their entire profile.
Facebook Camera just instantly became the best way to upload photos to the social network, just ahead of Batch and other apps. It's simple to take photos, tag them, and upload them en masse, which is something we've been asking for for a long time. You can't upload videos quite yet, and you can't delete photos you've taken inside the app, but besides that, it's a pretty great 1.0 app release. We can only hope that Facebook adapts some of the speedy tech inside this app for its now-primary iPhone application — Facebook Camera is the freshest take we've seen on a Facebook mobile experience in a long while.
Facebook wouldn't comment on if it's building Facebook Camera for other platforms, but they did say that they're thinking about it. Including Facebook Camera, the social network now has a few apps it must maintain, including a new app for managing Pages, as well as the popular Facebook Messenger app for iPhone.
But, didn't Facebook just buy Instagram?
Considering Facebook's recent Instagram acquisition, the launch of Facebook Camera seems kind of strange — but really, this kind of thing happens a lot. The Facebook Camera team, composed of people from acqui-hired Gowalla and MadeBySofa, as well as people from Facebook's Photos team. They've been working on the app for months (perhaps even a year?), and Mark Zuckerberg reportedly kept his desire to purchase Instagram close to the vest – as if he almost impulse-bought it. Had the Instagram deal never occurred, Facebook Camera wouldn't really be much of an Instagram competitor anyway, lacking any mobile-only social circles, hashtagged sharing around specific topics, tilt-shift, and interesting filters, for that matter. "Enhancing the Facebook photos experience on mobile is long overdue," Facebook's Derick Mains told me. "We really had to step up our game, and we're committed to building Instagram independently." Perhaps Facebook didn't think its mobile apps were coming along quickly enough, or perhaps it just saw Instagram as too formidable a competitor to let live. Either way, Facebook will soon own two mobile photo apps that let you apply filters to photos and share them with friends.