What Android’s familiar new features mean for the filter crowd

So, the first reviews and hands-on impressions pieces about the Nexus 4 are coming in. It looks like a fine beast and I intend to buy one, but, as the owner of two Nexus devices already (the 7 and S), I know I’ll soon get my hands on Android 4.2 even without shelling out more cash.

There are two features I’m keen to try out, although – indeed, because – I already have them. One is ‘gesture typing’, which I already use through Swype’s implementation, and the other is the photo filter functionality in the camera app.

By all accounts, and judging by the screenshots and videos people have posted, gesture typing really is like Swype. In fact, it looks so similar that I’m quite surprised it’s not Swype – has Nuance done a quiet deal with Google? If not, I’d expect a lawsuit at some point.

(Side note: Check out The Verge’s video on the creation of the new Nexus devices. I was particularly amused by Hugo Barra’s response to the suggestion that gesture typing is like Swype. “Whether it’s like Swype or not, I think, is less interesting, uh…”.)

But Swype is one service. The photo filter thing is another ballgame altogether.

(EDIT: Yes, there were already filters in Android but they were very basic. The newer ones, from what I have seen, veer into retro territory.)

It’s hard to look at photo filter functionality and surmise that Google is taking the wind out of any particular company’s sails. Indeed, the obviousness of the feature, along with the relative ease of implementation, is one reason why there are so many photo filter apps out there.

EyeEm popular photosBut, as Android 4.2 and later versions gain a bigger share of the Android installed base (as they will, given the hyper-aggressive pricing of recent Nexus devices), all those startups may find themselves in trouble.

The question is, how much of the attraction of a service such as Instagram or EyeEm is to do with that functionality, and how much is to do with the community and discovery features that flesh those apps out?

My suspicion is that it’s a case of ‘come for the filters, stay for the follows’. And, if that’s the case, then user acquisition may become something of a problem – on the Android platform, that is.

To be clear, I don’t think Google’s done anything wrong by adding photo filters to its core camera app – it’s an obvious feature. The Swype-alike feature is less obvious, but – appearance aside – it is also just an idea (yes, I’m an anti-software-patents guy). I also realise that many manufacturers put their own camera apps on their Android devices, making this less of an issue on those phones and tablets.

But this is yet another reminder that the power on any platform lies with the entity that owns or sponsors the platform. Everyone else is along for the ride until they’re no longer useful – which is why the likes of Instagram and EyeEm had better keep innovating to stay relevant.