Hipstamatic is back. In fact, the former Instagram rival and maker of the iPhone camera app never really left. During its more than a decade of existence, the company has rolled out variations on the original concept, such as the quirky Hipstamatic X for analog photography enthusiasts, while also maintaining Hipstamatic Classic, one of the first apps to earn Apple’s “App of the Year”— price received. But now, amid user complaints about the current state of Instagram, Hipstamatic returns to the App Store today with a relaunch of its social network for iPhone photography enthusiasts.
The arrival comes as a growing number of Instagram users have expressed frustration with Meta’s overly cluttered app, as well as Instagram’s focus on chasing TikTok with Reels, the algorithmic feed that distracts them from updates from friends, unwanted recommendations and ads. and the drive to have users follow creators and brands rather than people they know.
These issues got so bad that last year even Instagram’s own self-proclaimed royalty — Kim Kardashian and sister Kylie Jenner — criticized the app’s new direction, leading to a temporary rollback of some updates. For the first time, potential competitors sensed a weak spot in Instagram’s armor that they could attack, and a slew of new photo-sharing startups — such as Dispo, Poparazzi, Locket, and BeReal — did just that.
Now Hipstamatic will try the same. The revamped app, which will replace Hipstamatic X on the App Store today, is designed to directly answer Instagram users’ complaints.
Don’t like ads? Hipstamatic doesn’t have them. Hate the algorithmic feed? Hipstamatic’s feed is chronological. Sick of power-hunting creators and influencers? Hipstamatic limits users to following a maximum of 99 people, of which only 9 can be marked as “close friends” for direct messaging. Sick of Reels and TikTok clones? Don’t worry about that either.
When asked if the new Hipstamatic would offer video, co-founder Lucas Buick sneered, “Absolutely not. No never.”
Instead, Hipstamatic provides a community focused on sharing and interacting with photos and friends and experimenting with creativity. The app features Hipstamatic’s collection of hundreds of photo filters, which are designed to stand out, not to be polished.
“Hipstamatic filters are very heavy compared to the rest of the market,” explains Buick. “Hipstamatic filters do crazy things – even from a technical point of view.” For example, the app uses depth filters and facial recognition to redraw a filter around your face to mimic what a photo would look like if it were taken with a camera dating back to 1889. They’re not there to make subtle adjustments or small color corrections, he says.
The company believes the retro filters could also appeal to a new generation of users who suddenly love nostalgia as an “aesthetic.”
Generation Z consumers buy flip phones to take blurry, low-quality photos and to limit their access to social media addictions during their nights out with friends. Others use wired headphones, listen to vinyl, and invest in Y2K-era digital cameras.
“Hipstamatic makes sense again. Skeuomorphism is experiencing a small resurgence,” says Buick. (The app uses the concept of “stacks of photos” that you flip through to give digital photos a realistic look.) “Kids buy iPhone 3Gs to have better photo experiences in a weird, twisted world of TikTok,” he says. “Suddenly, a lot of things that we’ve built up over the past decade are starting to make sense again. And that’s kind of where we are now.”
But the co-founder suggests that Hipstamatic could also appeal to older users.
“Let’s face it, if I could target anyone, I’d like to target Boomers more than Gen Z,” adds Buick, going against the norms as only a creator of counter-culture hipster photo apps that could be.
“I feel like social media can be a really great place to connect with people you like and hang out with people like internet friends. And I think Boomers are kind of neglected by that conversation, even though it’s a really big generation of people. And if I’ve learned anything in the last 10 years it’s that they want to understand technology… I feel like Boomers, I don’t know, I feel like they would love Hipstamatic.
The new social network Hipstamatic will not define itself by likes and followers, but rather by the lack of an influencer culture.
Here, users only earn stickers and stamps that they see when they participate in a particular activity, such as taking a photo walk, photographing something specific in their community, or participating in “snappy hour” – the golden hour before and after sunrises and sunsets. And if you want to “like” a friend’s photos, you can leave “kudos,” a little sticker on the back of their photo, to do so. Much of the app’s user interface resembles the original Hipstamatic X, with the addition of new social networking components.
The upper limit of being able to track just 99 accounts is both a technical limitation of having built on Apple’s CloudKit instead of AWS, and a desire to replicate the vibes of Dave Morin’s Path, a long-ago network whose name is still being used. called out from time to time as users get nostalgic.
Perhaps most importantly, Hipstamatic photos don’t stick – the photos disappear from the social network after 30 days. (You can still export your creations to the Camera Roll, of course, or even just use the app as a photo editor if you prefer.)
As in previous years, Hipstamatic will avoid outside financing and rely on a sustainable business model to keep its app running.
The $4.99/month (or $29.99/year) subscription unlocks the premium filters, editing features, and other benefits like claiming your favorite username on the social network. The subscription now includes the company’s apps, unlocking premium features in Hipstamatic Classic and in the photo booth app, IncrediBooth.
While the company isn’t planning a massive marketing campaign right away, users will be able to share their Hipstamatic photos to Twitter and Stories, helping their friends find them. Furthermore, the app won’t do address book uploads like some social apps do to get off the ground. But you can invite friends, search for names, or search for Twitter or Apple friends — the latter thanks to the app’s use of the more personal “Sign In With Apple” option.
“We don’t need to know who you are. We don’t need to know where you’re from. We don’t need to know how many times you’ve opened the app or liked someone’s thing… all that tracking stuff is irrelevant to the core functionality of this product,” says Buick. “We didn’t need all that stuff, and it allowed us to build this with a team of about three or four.”
That team includes Hipstamatic’s original co-founders, Buick and Ryan Dorshorst, as well as two other team members from the early days, who also work at other jobs.
Moving on, the team might want to revisit other Hipstamatic creations, like a sort of iPad magazine reboot, but not as a separate app. They’re also thinking about having friends collaborate on photo stacks.
The new Hipstamatic relaunched today on the iPhone App Store… And it will never come to Android, says Buick.