The science fiction reality
Facebook Camera: app of the day
What is it?
A standalone photo-sharing app from Facebook for iPhone, for shooting and sharing images on the social network as well as for browsing friends' pics.
The ability to post a load of photos at once, rather than one by one (as you do in Facebook's main app and most other photo-sharing apps).
iPhone - free
Facebook announced in April that it had agreed to pay a hefty one billion dollars for photo-sharing app Instagram. Little over a month later, it's launched an app that has a lot of the same features. It's a strange decision, to say the least, even if Facebook Camera was already in the works when the Instagram news was announced.
The three key questions are whether Facebook Camera is any good, whether you'd want to use it rather than Facebook's main iPhone app, and how it compares to Instagram - the most popular standalone photo-sharing app on iPhone by some distance.
Question one, then. Facebook Camera works very well, with a design geared towards fast browsing through your friends' photos, and speedy uploading of your own.
The former is handled by simply swiping down through a timeline of photos, with icons to Like them or comment, and the ability to swipe sideways on a pic if it's part of a set to view them all.
At the top of the screen is a camera icon to take a new photo, and thumbnails of the three most recent pics you've taken using the iPhone's own camera app.
This expands to a bigger grid of photos, each with a tick icon. To upload a set, simply tick a bunch of pics, type a comment and tag any friends, and set them uploading. It's very good indeed.
Individual photos can be cropped and have filters applied. The filters are less arty than those offered by Instagram, but there's a range of them to play with.
Facebook Camera is a good app, but would you use it instead of the main Facebook app? Definitely when uploading batches of photos, although probably not to browse. After all, your friends' photos will also be in the main app, alongside all the non-photo updates that you don't want to miss out on.
The suspicion has to be that the best features from Facebook Camera will make their way into the main app at some point - if it gets batch uploading and filters, the standalone photos app looks much less appealing.
Finally, Instagram. If you love Instagram, you won't be switching to Facebook Camera. The former lets you follow people who aren't your Facebook friends, its filters are more beautiful (a subjective view, admittedly) and it has that nifty tilt-shift effect too.
A big part of Instagram's appeal is its own social graph that's not tied to Facebook - something Facebook says it's not planning to change after the acquisition goes through, which is heartening. But that's also a reason why relatively few Instagram users will be tempted to ditch it for Facebook Camera.
I can see myself using both - having Facebook Camera on my iPhone for those times (holidays, parties etc) when I have a bunch of pics to upload, and keeping Instagram as my key app for making everyday photos look beautiful.
In six months' time, Facebook Camera may have been gracefully shut down as its best features migrate to the main Facebook app. Or it may have become a valuable skunkworks app for the social network to quickly test new photographic features. Either way, it's good to see Facebook experimenting in this way.