Twitter, Instagram Battle Over Filters

What began as a cool, share-able feature that brought everyone together has now become the key component in a mobile war: photo filters.

The battle accelerated yesterday when Twitter rolled out its own filters to its native Android and iOS apps. Those on Twitter will get Vignette, Black & White, Warm, Cool, Vintage, Cinematic, Happy and Gritty. Instagram also added the new filter, Willow, in its iOS and Android updates yesterday.

This changes comes just one day after Instagram dropped support for viewing images in the Twitter stream. To see the Instagram picture of someone you follow on Twitter, it now requires clicking a link and exiting the Twitter app. Previously, the image would appear on a “card” directly in that user’s stream.

While Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram certainly plays a role in this, the larger issue is how each platform is looking to seal off its experience. Instagram wants its users spending time within its own application, instead of assuming they can just follow their Instagram friends and see their images through Twitter. Also, Twitter is clearly looking to get in on the filtered image action by debuting its own capabilities. The Facebook Camera app on iOS does the same, with a selection of its own filters that can be quickly placed over an image before it is shared with the social network.

The most personal and powerful computing devices we use now are our mobile phones. While power productivity will still belong to the desktop for the foreseeable future, we remain closely tied to our handsets, which are dominated by iOS and Android.

Look for this kind of micro-feature battle to accelerate between social platforms in 2013. The amount of data we generate is becoming too valuable for companies to just cede any of it to a competitor. The end result may not be the best experience for users. For example, seeing one’s Instagram picture in Twitter now requires the unnecessary step of exiting the app.

Don’t be surprised if Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and other social services seek to tighten their controls and match every other competitor feature for feature. While it may bring more competition to the field, it may force users to start choosing where to spend their time.

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