What's cooler than spending $1bn on a mobile photo sharing app?
The answer: spending $1bn on a mobile photo service and then launching your own mobile photo sharing app service weeks later.
Facebook's IPO last week was rocky to say the least, and the company now faces multiple class action lawsuits. But for its team, the Stay focused and keep hacking mantra is apparently in full force despite the fact that many investors have unfriended the social network.
Case in point: yesterday, Facebook unveiled a new, homegrown photo sharing app. Dubbed Facebook Camera, the app, which is initially available for the iPhone, is designed to "[make] using Facebook photos faster and easier."
Facebook Camera includes batch photo uploading capabilities and Instagram-like photo filters. Perhaps most importantly, as The Verge's Ellis Hamburger observes, it looks nothing like Facebook's core iOS app, which, for many users, has been the source of frustration and subject of criticism.
As one might expect given the timing of this launch, Facebook Camera's development began well before Mark Zuckerberg decided that he wanted to purchase Instagram no matter the cost. While some may suggest that Facebook Camera highlights the absurdity of paying $1bn for Instagram, particularly given some of the similarities between the apps, that may not be an entirely fair view.
For starters, Facebook's acquisition of Instagram isn't a done deal. The FTC is investigating the purchase over antitrust concerns and there is always the possibility that it could be blocked. There's also the issue of timing.
As AllThingsDigital's Mike Isaac suggests:
Instagram was taking over mobile photos, and Facebook couldn’t wait around and watch the company snap up every user while still working on perfecting the Facebook Camera app.
Assuming the Instagram deal is allowed to go through, which one would expect Facebook to be banking on given the $200m breakup fee it agreed to pay Instagram if the deal doesn't complete, the company's homegrown app does raise questions about its strategy going forward. One big question is whether it will seek to bring the Instagram app and Facebook Camera together in some way, or whether it will let them co-exist side-by-side. Engadget's Brad Molen believes the later is more likely:
Camera as a standalone program is an indication of the company's expansion strategy. Its sights are set beyond the horizon, finding new ways to expand its sphere of influence beyond its current membership of 900 million members. Recently, we discussed the idea of Facebook offering more value to the average consumer than simply being a "social network.
Arguably, the company has already pushed beyond this designation and is quickly becoming an all-encompassing network comprised of a myriad of services and features. In the near future we envision Mark Zuckerberg & co. pushing out several different standalone apps, each one expanding on a feature in a way that many non-members will find appealing. Camera is one such example of this...
This is an interesting possibility, but with more than 900m members and significant penetration in many of the world's key internet markets, one has to wonder if such a strategy, which is based on driving audience growth, would really be a wise move.
Facebook's challenge is not growing its audience; it's monetizing its existing audience far more effectively. Mobile is a big barrier to this, and it's not clear that developing (or buying) a myriad of mobile apps will help the company. In fact, it just might be a huge impediment.