Seattle photographer Chase Jarvis is a champion of mobile photography and a firm believer that millions if not billions of people around the world want to share pictures taken with their phones. To borrow a well-worn cliche: If only there was an app for that.
Well, there was an app for that, and Jarvis created it. It was called Best Camera, and for a time, after its launch in 2009, it was the most popular photography app in existence. Until Instagram.
Jarvis, in a lengthy and revealing new blog post on his website, is finally sharing the tale of what went wrong with Best Camera, what it felt like to lose to Instagram, and why finally — after six years — he has posted his first images to the wildly popular platform that beat him to the $1 billion payout.
For those who didn’t get swept up in the early wave of iPhone photography, Best Camera gained its popularity by being an app that allowed filtering of images and sharing to social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Jarvis, a professional photographer who theorized that great images were about the moment, not the gear, writes that he saw the potential in giving millions of amateur photographers a better tool with which to share what they shot.
Best Camera took off in the App Store, landed on best-of lists and was named by Apple VP Phil Schiller as one of his favorite apps. There was even an online community and a book, called “The Best Camera is the One That’s With You.”
But the early praise for Best Camera eventually turned to skepticism as the app was criticized for not releasing timely and significant enough updates. It is here that Jarvis reveals the inner workings of the downfall of his dream, as he explains the structure of a deal he put together with the firm that developed the app, why that firm decided updates didn’t suit its financial interest and how it all unraveled from the there.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. In 2010, Instagram launched. Within no time, the free photo-sharing platform had 100,000 users. A year and a half later the company was valued at half a billion dollars. And then, less than two years after launch, Instagram sold to Facebook for $1 billion. This past June, the company announced that it had surpassed 500 million monthly active users — more than 95 million photos and videos are shared, on average, per day.
“Despite my frustration that I missed out on what could have been a massive opportunity, I felt strangely calm — almost peaceful,” Jarvis writes about learning of the Instagram sale. “I sat alone in my silent studio, ignored the relentless torrent of notifications on my phone and just sat back, letting it all sink in for a bit. Coming to terms with what was probably my biggest professional failure.”
To be clear, Jarvis didn’t wallow for long. His website boasts numerous projects that he’s involved in, including CreativeLive.com, which he calls “the largest and best education platform for creatives and entrepreneurs.”
“I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit beating myself up about how Best Camera went down, but the honest-to-god truth is that CreativeLive is even more exciting to me,” Jarvis writes. “What lives will be changed, problems solved, careers and businesses built from that platform?”
Looking at my own iPhone, on which I’ve taken thousands of photographs over the years, I admit to having to jar my memory a bit to remember Best Camera. But I found it, in a photography folder along with other camera apps I have long since stopped using. I opened the blue lense with the white arrow and up popped a picture that was apparently the last one I imported into the app — a classmate of my now 9-year-old son’s, and the boy appears to be about 5.
Meanwhile, over on Instagram, I’ve posted more than 5,000 images over the past four years or so and it’s easily the app I check and use most often in my photo-happy life.
And now @chasejarvis is there.
For four years, lawyers advising him in his case against the Best Camera developers told him to stay off other similar photo-sharing platforms so as to not devalue his argument if he ever decided to sue for damages. Jarvis said he finally has closure and the gag order has been lifted after “throwing lawyers and dollars” at the problem once again in an effort to settle all matters with the developers.
His first post on Instagram is a cut from a YouTube video, uploaded Tuesday, that explains how it’s all been a long time in the making, as he summarizes the points in his blog post. There are two more images in the feed, as of Wednesday, and he has more than 8,000 followers.
“It is abundantly clear who kicked my ass in the photo sharing app game,” Jarvis concludes on his blog. “Instagram is where everyone goes when they want to share their photos with the world. They built an amazing platform — an amazing business — and I’m happy to say that I’m now able to join in the fun.”