Fred Wilson had a blog post today that really got me thinking. The topic is Utilities vs Networks and he brings up how big of a deal it is that Instagram is the go-to application for taking photos on many IPhones, not the native Camera app.
When the IPhone was first launching, I remember going to training sessions for development. They weren’t in Objective-C, but instead were about the IPhone’s central 3rd party experience being HTML5. That seems crazy now but it went on for months. Whether or not they always knew the app store was where their strategy was headed is up in the air. Apple is known for trying to control and own everything. Regardless, platforms like Android would have forced their hands a bit. Choice has become a must (and a selling point).
Its difficult to build an experience more compelling than Apple’s own. Credit where credit is due but the blog post points to Apple’s lack of a network as the central reason Instagram can make so much progress.
I think a lot of it may be broader. Instagram can focus on building one piece of the experience, while Apple has to worry about reverberations that Camera may have through its entire platform. Instagram can focus on everything photos they can integrate with external networks (and photo-only networks) without business deals, and they are able to create a rich experience with risks like filters that everyone with an IPhone may not want.