Why, again, isn’t there an iPad-optimized Instagram app?

Last night, I published my 400th photo on Instagram — and it got me thinking about how I use this indispensable app. In the year and half I’ve been using the service, that amounts to about about five pictures posted per week. But my posting pales in comparison to how often I use the app: every morning I check my feed, many times throughout the day, and definitely before I go to bed at night. Much of that browsing, especially in the evening, is done on my iPad — despite the fact that Instagram(s FB) still does not have a tablet-optimized iPad app. Yes, even one of the most popular iOS apps of all time still requires you to click the “2x” button on your iPad.

How can this be? It’s certainly easy to write it off as the fact that people take photos with their smartphones, not their tablets. But one of the best parts of Instagram, and I know this is the case not just for me, is browsing the images that your friends are posting. (Why else would people get so upset when Instagram removed the ability to view its photos within the body of a tweet?) Just like far more people lurk on Twitter than post, far more people browse Instagram than post images.

And yet Instagram isn’t alone. There are far more popular photo apps of all kinds — camera apps, photo editing apps, photo book apps — for smartphones than tablets. In a study published this week, Suite 48 Analytics found that of the top 25 most downloaded free iOS photo apps, only six were optimized for the iPad. And of paid photo apps, in the top 25 there are just seven made specifically for the iPad; Photoshop Touch(s ADBE) and Camera+ for iPad are highest rated. Similar information on Google apps wasn’t available because Google(s GOOG) Play does not designate apps by device.

iPad photo apps Suite 48

A missed opportunity for developers

When you look at the ownership trends among tablets, and particularly iPads, it starts to become rather puzzling that there aren’t as many photo apps made specifically for the iPad. The Suite 48 Analytics study noted:

  • Tablet purchases are growing 75 percent year-over-year right now.
  • One in four American adults have a tablet. (Most of those are iPads.)
  • The average age of tablet users is 34, compared to the average age of smartphone users, which is 30. In general, older users are more likely to have kids. And as we all know from our Facebook or Instagram feeds, they like pictures of their kids.
  • Tablet users are more likely to pay for things than smartphone users: 62 percent of tablet users have bought something on it in the past year, versus 52 percent of smartphone users.

These are important opportunities for third-party developers who are building apps, said Hans Hartman, who published the Suite 48 report. Older users tend to have more disposable income and are willing to pay for these apps — provided they’re good of course. He noted that even though Adobe charges $9.99 for Photoshop Touch for iPad, which is a lot of money for a mobile app, users still praise the price in their reviews because they understand the value of being able to edit their photos by hand on their tablet instead of a laptop or desktop, especially considering what they’d pay for similar software on the desktop.

Adobe Photoshop Touch iPad

Adobe Photoshop Touch iPad

And even if developers prefer to offer their app for free, in-app purchases of photo products are a great way to monetize those apps. Tablets are easier for, say, building photo books for a new baby than a smaller smartphone screen, and more convenient than a computer. And, again, the data shows that the same older demographic that has kids and owns tablets is willing to pay for this kind of product.

It doesn’t have to be just about revenue though: a bigger screen often means more freedom for designers. A better layout or interface can allow for features a smaller iPhone or smartphone screen may not. And an app can be easier to use on a larger display. “On iPhone, it’s primarily a portrait way of looking at your phone,” he said. Instead of landscape, which “can make an app better,” Hartman pointed out in a phone interview.

Universal apps — apps that work for both the iPhone and the iPad — can work. But for Instagram in particular there is clearly a lost opportunity here: the downloads of InstaPad, which is not an Instagram product, prove it. People (like me) clearly want an app that sounds like it’s the Instagram for iPad.

So why not give us what we want: the real thing? Now that Instagram has Facebook money to play with, there’s not much of an excuse.