All posts in “Instagram Stories”

Instagram rolls out Focus portrait mode for videos and photos

Instagram is one-upping Apple with a portrait mode feature that runs on a wider variety of phones and works with video, not just photos. Last month, TechCrunch reported about a Focus feature buried in Instagram’s code, which began publicly testing a week later. Now Instagram is rolling out Focus, which blurs the background while keeping someone’s face sharp for a stylized, professional photography look. “Focus mode leverages background segmentation and face detection technology,” an Instagram spokesperson told me when asked how it works without the need for dual cameras.

Focus can be found in the Instagram Stories format options alongside Boomerang and Superzoom in both the selfie and rear-facing cameras, and it rolls out globally today on iPhone 6s, 6s+, 7, 7+, 8, 8+ and X, as well as select Android devices. That’s compared to Apple’s portrait mode that only works on the iPhone 7+, 8+, and X, and Android portrait mode that exists on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Instagram’s launch could also suck attention away from “fake portrait mode” apps like Magic Portrait Mode, FabFocus, LightX and Point Blur that can also add blurry background “bokeh effects” to images.

This comparison provided to TechCrunch by reader Genady Okrain shows how Instagram Focus blurs the background, but can make the edges of the face look a bit hazy too. The iPhone portrait mode that takes advantage of newer models’ dual cameras does a little better job of keeping the whole face in focus, but it’s not available on older iPhones and can’t do video.

Focus gives people another reason to choose Instagram over Snapchat, and could make shooting inside the Instagram app more appealing. After eight years of sunsets and latte art, it’s the selfies and portraits that still feel fresh on Instagram. Making them look as good as possible could keep Instagram from growing stale as it rockets toward 1 billion users.

Focus appears as an Instagram Stories format alongside Boomerang and Superzoom. Screenshots via Social Pip 

Meanwhile, Instagram is starting to roll out Mentions stickers that make it easy to tag friends in a Story with a stylized graphic instead of just text. Instagram tested these last month, but now they’re becoming available to all iOS users. Just like adding emoji to photos and videos, you can select the Mention sticker, use the typeahead to find a friend’s username and tag them in a resizable sticker. That lets people tap through to view their profile, and generates a notification to the tagged user.

Instagram has had text mentions since November 2016, soon after it launched Stories, but Snapchat just added them last month. Mentions could make it easier for creators on both the apps to collaborate and cross-promote each other, or encourage fans to spread their name to friends.

 As Facebook endures unending scandals, Instagram has remained relatively unscathed by the backlash. Without links and resharing, it’s immune to a lot of the fake news and politics that have made Facebook exhausting. Instagram seems to see rapid feature development as the best distraction. Beyond Focus mode, TechCrunch recently reported that Instagram voice and video calling features are hidden inside the app’s code. And it’s just begun testing a Snapchat QR code-style feature called Instagram Nametags that makes it easy to follow someone.

3 tests show Facebook is determined to make Stories the default

Facebook isn’t backing down from Stories despite criticism that it copied Snapchat and that Instagram Stories is enough. Instead, it’s committed to figuring out how to adapt the slideshow format into the successor to the status update. That’s why today the company is launching three significant tests that make Facebook Stories a default way to share.

“The way people share and connect is changing; it’s quickly becoming more real-time and visual. We’re testing new creative tools to bring pictures and videos to life, and introducing easier ways to find and share stories” a Facebook spokesperson told me.

Meanwhile, Facebook has been fixing the biggest problems with its Stories: redundancy between Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram. Now you can set your Instagram Stories to automatically be reposted to your Facebook Story, and Stories on Facebook and Messenger sync with each other. That means you can just post to Instagram and have your Story show up on all three apps. That way if you want extra views or to include friends who aren’t Insta-addicts, you can show them your Story with no extra uploads.

It was a year ago that Facebook rolled out Stories. But Facebook has so many features that it has to make tough decisions about which to promote and which to bury. It often launches features with extra visibility at first, but forces them to grow popular on their own before giving them any additional attention.

Facebook is vulnerable to competitors if it doesn’t make Stories work, and users may eventually grow tired of the News Feed full of text updates from distant acquaintances. But Instagram Stories and WhatsApp’s version Status have both grown to over 250 million daily users, showing there’s obviously demand for this product if Facebook can figure out how Stories fit in its app.

Hence, these tests:

  1. The Facebook status composer on mobile will immediately show an open camera window and the most recent images in your camera roll to spur Stories sharing. Given that Facebook has as many as 17 choices for status updates from checkins to recommendations to GIFs, the new camera and camera roll previews make Stories a much more prominent option. Facebook isn’t going so far as to launch with the camera as the home screen like Snapchat, or half the screen like it once tried, but it clearly believes it will be able to ride the trend and people will get more out of sharing if they choose Stories. This starts testing today to a small subset of users around the world.
  2. When you shoot something with the augmented reality-equipped Facebook Camera feature, the sharing page will now default to having Stories selected. Previously, users had to choose if they wanted to post to Stories, News Feed, or send their creation to someone through Messenger. Facebook is now nudging users to go with Stories, seemingly confident of its existing dominance over the ranked feed and messaging spaces. This will test will all users in the Dominican Republic.
  3. Above the News Feed, Facebook Stories will show up with big preview tiles behind the smaller profile pictures of the people who created them. Teasing what’s inside a Story could make users a lot more likely to click to watch them. Facebook uses a similar format but with smaller preview circles on Messenger. And while Instagram leaves more room for the main feed by just showing profile pic bubbles for Stories, if you keep scrolling you might see a call out in the feed for Stories you haven’t watched using a big preview tile format similar to what Facebook Stories is trying. More views could encourage users to share more Stories, helping to dismantle the ghost town perception of Facebook Stories. This will also tests to a small percentage of users around the world.

    One of Facebook’s new Stories tests shows big preview tiles behind people’s profile bubbles.

If Facebook finds these tests prove popular, they could roll out everywhere and make Stories a much more central part of the app’s experience. Facebook will have to avoid users feeling like Stories are getting crammed down their throats. But seeing the camera option, defaulting camera content to Stories, and seeing bigger preview all disappear with a quick tap or swipe.

The fact is that the modern world of computing affords a very different type of social media than when Facebook launched 14 years ago. Then, you’d update your status with a line of text from your desktop computer because your phone didn’t have a good camera or maybe even the internet, screens were small, mobile networks were slow, and it was tough to compute on the go. Now with every phone equipped with a great camera, a nice screen, increasingly fast mobile networks, and everyone else staring at them all the time, it makes sense to share through photos and videos you post throughout the day.

This isn’t a shift driven by Facebook, or even really Snapchat. Visual communication is an inevitable evolution. For Facebook, Stories aren’t an “if”, just a “how”.

Snapchat finally adds @ mention tagging


Snapchat now lets you @-tag someone in your Story, creating a swipe up “more” option that shows the tagged person’s name, handle, Bitmoji, and an Add button so you can follow them too. The feature could let friends call each other out in Stories, or promote their favorite influencers by making it easy for people to follow them.

Snapchat now confirms to TechCrunch that “We’re testing this” but refused to give more details. It’s a case of Snapchat copying Instagram back after the Facebook-owned app added @ mentions to Stories back in November 2016, just a few months after Instagram cloned Snapchat’s whole Stories feature. Not all users appear to have access to tagging right now, but it seems like a sensible thing to roll out.

TechCrunch learned of the feature from Matt Rappaport after Dana Glidden spotted it. The news comes just after Cheddar reported Snapchat is laying of 120 employees in its engineering department in what appears to be a cost-cutting move as it attempts to reduce its quarterly losses.

Here’s how Snapchat @ mention tagging works. After you shoot a photo or video with the Snapchat camera, you can add text to it. While there’s no type-ahead drop-down menu like on some social networks, you can “@[someone’s username]” to mention them. When someone views your Snap, they’ll see a “More” option beckoning them to swipe up. This reveals tiles showing people’s profile info and an Add button. The tags don’t appear to trigger notifications for people mentioned, which could help prevent them from being used for spam or bullying,

Tagging could help Snapchat better intertwine Stories and messaging, which now live in the same tab after the big redesign. Story tags could spark conversations that lead to the back-and-forth visual communication that Snapchat pioneered. With Instagram having cloned and refined Stories, Snapchat needs to promote its best-in-class ephemeral messaging feature to stay differentiated.

Instagram has an unlaunched “Portrait” feature hidden inside


Eager to one-up Snapchat, Instagram appears to be preparing to expand its collection of shutter modes beyond options like Boomerang and Superzoom. Buried within Instagram’s Android Application Package (APK) is an icon for a Portrait shutter for the Stories camera. This could potentially let people shoot stylized portraits with bokeh effect-blurred backgrounds or other lighting effects.

TechCrunch reader Ishan Agarwal exclusively shared the images below with TechCrunch after decompiling the APK, which is the file format equivalent of Windows’ .exe but for Android. The icon would show up overlaid on the Instagram Stories camera shutter button when you swipe to the corresponding mode.

Instagram declined to comment on the findings, though it did the same when we asked about a Giphy GIF-sharing feature we spotted in January…which then officially launched a week later. Instagram could always decide against publicly releasing these new features, though, if internal strategy or external testing turns against them.

The revelation follows our scoop from his research last week that uncovered voice and video calling features hidden within Instagram’s Direct messaging system.

Many smartphones including newer iPhones include a portrait option in their default native cameras. People can shoot there and upload to places like Instagram. But users are increasingly recording content with the in-app Stories cameras in Instagram and Snapchat that offer advanced editing and special effects.

Portrait mode could offer extra creative possibilities while one-upping Snapchat, which lacks any similar feature. After testing a basic version on the iPhone 7 plus, Apple gave the new iPhone 8 plus and iPhone X a range of portrait options like countour lighting or studio lighting.

It’s unclear whether Instagram’s portrait mode will just be a single setting or include more ways to stylize an image, but there’s plenty Instagram could do to make it look like you’re shooting on a fancy SLR camera. Judging by the fact that the file for “Rewind” is labeled “Reverse”, the “Portrait” mode could launch under a different name. That might also decrease confusion between it and native phone portrait options.

Instagram must constantly evolve to stay interesting. The sepia latte art and over-saturated sunsets that once dominated the feed have become passé. But the Instagram-Snapchat arms race has led to increasingly gaudy and bombastic augmented reality filters, colorful stickers, and seething GIFs. Portrait mode could push Instagram back to its classier roots, and help people create images worth saving after their Stories turn to ash by the next sunrise.

Instagram tests resharing of others’ posts to your Story


Instagram purposefully lacks a “Regram” button to promote original sharing, but it’s easing up on that philosophy when it comes to Stories. Instagram now confirms to TechCrunch that it’s testing an option that lets you share public feed posts from other users to your Story. This could let you add commentary and overlaid stickers to a meme, celebrity post or even a friend’s photo. For users whose lives aren’t so interesting, resharing could give them something to post.

Instagram confirmed the test and TechCrunch sent it a screenshot posted by Zachary Shakked. The company tells us “We’re always testing ways to make it easier to share any moment with friends on Instagram.” The feature is currently only testing with a small percentage of users, but it seems like a sensible addition that I bet will get rolled out further.

For privacy, users with public accounts can go to their Settings to turn off the ability for others to reshare their posts. Even if you don’t have the reshare option yet, you can still find the privacy setting now. Then again, people could still just screenshot their posts. In fact, this was such a common activity that it likely encouraged Instagram to formalize it with resharing. Instagram was rumored to be testing a Regram button for sharing feed posts back to the feed, but that appears to have been false, or at least never rolled out.

Tagging friends in memes and posts has become one of Instagram’s most popular emergent behaviors. Those long comment threads of people’s handles weren’t that useful though, so Instagram made it simple to send someone else’s post as a Direct message. The new test expands that idea from private sharing to close friends into broadcasting.

You can see the re-sharing feature in action here:

[embedded content]

Now that Snapchat is growing more swiftly after yesterday’s blockbuster earnings report, Instagram needs to be on its toes. That means constantly adding new features that truly improve the app’s experience without bloating it with so many niche options that Instagram becomes confusing.

Featured Image: Bloomberg/Getty Images