Glass: Do We Need Another Photo-Sharing App?

Yes, but maybe not this one

Key Takeaways

  • Glass is an ad- and algorithm-free photo-sharing app.
  • Glass is subscription-only.
  • The iPhone-only app is beautifully designed.
The view of an image through a detached camera lens someone is holding up.

Paul Skorupskas / Unsplash

Glass is a shiny new photo-sharing app, kind of like Instagram was back in the beginning, only—if you can believe it—even cleaner and more minimal.

Instagram started as a place to filter, share, and like your iPhone photos. Glass is like that, only without the filters or the likes. Like OG Insta, Glass is iPhone-only. But, unlike almost any other photo-sharing app, it is also subscription-only, and the only way to sign up is using sign-in with Apple. Glass is so pared down that it makes Philip Glass look like a 1990s-era Geocities home page in comparison. But do we need a pure photo-sharing site?

"I don't believe that there really is a need for a pure photo-sharing app, especially in a market where we have apps that add interaction to it as well," filmmaker and writer Daniel Hess told Lifewire via email.

Glass vs Instagram

Instagram steadily has gotten more complex, going from a simple, chronological photostream to a video-first TikTok-mimicking engagement machine. Photos rearrange themselves according to the algorithm, stories confuse everyone, ads thread through your timeline, and it’s even a popular messaging platform.

Screenshots from the Glass app.

Glass

That’s all fine, but what if you just want to share and look at photos? Now that Instagram is officially over as a photo-sharing site, photographers and photo fans will have to look elsewhere.

Glass is here to plug the gap. It’s focused on sharing and viewing photos and nothing else. You see a reverse-chronological timeline, and it’s as clean as all get-out, with nothing but a white line to separate the full-width thumbnails and a small floating control panel at the bottom.

Tapping an image shows the full photo, along with details of the camera and setting used (EXIF data), and a space for comments. You can write comments, but there are no likes and no follower counts—although when you view a photographer’s profile, you can see who they follow and who follows them. 

Do We Need It?

There is almost certainly a need for a simple, photos-only service to share and view pictures, and an app is a modern way to do it. But there are already places to do this. Sunlit is a micro.blog-based app that’s philosophically very similar to Glass. Tumblr is another option, and you can even dust off your old Flickr username if you like. Glass is a beautiful experience, but these older apps and web services show that there’s only one thing that’s important for a social network, even one as simple as Glass—momentum. If people aren’t signing up and using it, then who do you follow? Who follows you?

Currently, it’s hard to judge the app because there are so few people using it. Instagram got a big leg up by importing your Twitter following list, but those days are over. And Glass is currently invite-only. You get a spot in line when you sign up in the app, and sometime later (a few days in my case), you’ll get an invite code via email. 

An image from a photographer on Glass

Glass

The other barrier is the subscription. It’s $4.99 per month, or $50 ($30 at launch) per year, which is fine. The trouble is, many people will sign up, use the free trial period, fail to find their friends, and let their subscriptions lapse.

This might lead to Glass becoming a photographers’ portfolio app, which is also fine, but that’s not an alternative to Instagram for most people. 

"While, yes, the amount of people doing photography is always increasing, it seems that they already have the channels in place they need to in order to advertise their services," says Hess, "The only advantages would be to perhaps allow a more streamlined place for photographers to connect with one another."

And yet Glass is compelling. You can tell photography lovers have built it. The photos are the main attraction, and the design only reinforces that. For instance, when browsing users, you see a row of thumbnails next to their profile picture, and you can scroll through them right there in the list. Then, if you like what you see, following them is done with just a one button-tap.

The EXIF data is a lovely touch—it’s unobtrusive but offers most of what you might want to know—camera and lens models, plus shutter speed, ISO, and aperture settings.

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