Mobile photo boom: The best is yet to come?

An Instagram photo I took in Laramie, Wyoming.

We saw a lot of impressive stats following Instagram’s release on Tuesday of its photo-sharing mobile app for Android(s GOOG) users: with 430,000 people on the waiting list for the new version of the app, once it hit Google’s Play mobile store there were 2,000 new signups a minute for the service. That’s in addition to the 30 million iOS users already, who have been uploading 5 million photos a day to the service. But as impressive as those stats sound, there’s way more room for Instagram — and apps like it — to grow.
A detailed report from 6sight was released this week and it showed that smartphones and apps have much more room to grow when it comes to how people take photos and edit or enhance them. Analysts from 6sight — a group focused on imaging technology — interviewed 1,065 North Americans who take at least one photo a month with a digital camera, smartphone or tablet. It’s a specifically younger demographic they chose too — three-quarters of 6sight’s respondents were under 35 years old.
The group found that while smartphones are used on more occasions to take photos, those who use digital cameras still take more snaps overall: 91 percent of smartphone owners use the device to take a photo at least once a month, compared to 73 percent of digital camera owners. But camera owners take twice as many photos per month as smartphone photographers — 77 versus 34 per month, according to 6sight.
The real eye-opener, however, was how people edit and enhance their photos. According to 6sight, the vast majority of photo enhancing and editing is still done on a computer, not a mobile device. They found 83 percent of digital camera photographers use a computer and a program like Photoshop(s ADBE) to edit their photos. Meanwhile, just 15 percent of smartphone owners take and edit photos on their mobile device.
Knowing that Instagram (free) and Camera+ (99 cents) are consistently ranked in the the top 10 most downloaded free and paid apps for the iPhone(s AAPL), it’s not a surprise that iPhone users edit their photos on their device often: 25 percent versus 13 percent of Android phone owners.

Credit: 6sight

6sight’s Hartman said those results were somewhat unexpected:

You hear so much about Instagram, but even with the audience we [surveyed], which was slightly younger and more into smartphones, people still see their computer as a primary environment to enhance their photos. That was a big surprise to me.

We know that browser-based photo editing is plenty popular. Photo-editing tool Aviary is already on more than 1,000 websites and last week got a huge boost when it became the built-in editing tool for Flickr(s YHOO). But for desktop photo enhancing or editing, Hartman said, “it’s mostly a Photoshop and Photoshop family [of products] that rules the roost — kind of a reality check.”
I’m one of those people who only uses a smartphone for photos — I lost my digital camera years ago and haven’t felt the need to replace it thanks to the iPhone’s perfectly capable lens — and I know lots of people like me. Seven months ago I became a relatively late hop-on to the Instagram for iPhone bandwagon, and I find myself using the service far more often than I thought I would, especially the social sharing aspect. I love snapping a moment as it’s happening. I was, and still am, however, a Camera+ user, especially for fixing/enhancing batches of photos before I upload them to a Facebook album. I can’t remember the last time I touched desktop photo-editing software.
So, sure, these stats from 6sight are a reality check — for now. As computing increasingly goes mobile and consumers snap up mobile devices with increasingly better cameras built in, as buying patterns are showing, it means that Instagram, which just opened the floodgates, has even more room to expand.