Instagram's New Boomerang App Doesn't Offer Much in Return

It's a gimmick, but a fun gimmick nonetheless. As to whether it can unseat GIFs or Vines, however ...

When Instagram announced its new standalone looping video app Boomerang late in October, its blog post began with the following statement: “It’s not a photo. It’s not a gif. It’s a Boomerang.” Two out of those three sentences are true. For however much Instagram wants to innovate inside its five-year-old app, there’s only so much to do beyond photo-sharing. Videos launched in June 2013, the time-lapse offshoot Hyperlapse came in August 2014, and alternate photo formats like landscape landed three months ago. And now, Boomerang. It seems to be fun for about as long as the amount of time it lets you shoot videos.

Boomerangs amount to Instagram’s versions of a GIF. The deceptively simple app, available for iOS and Android, lets you shoot a one-second burst of five photos that become a silent loop to be shared on Instagram and Facebook. The app itself doesn’t have its own feed, and you don’t even need an Instagram account to make and save the little loops. The second-long videos are stored in your camera roll, and can be sent over messages or email as well if you don’t want to share them via social media.

Besides building on its own set of add-ons, Instagram obviously introduced Boomerang to undercut the competition — just late. The Boomerang and the restrictions of the loops themselves are like Vine videos, Snapchat rewinds, and Apple’s Live Photos all thrown together. Even then it barely separates itself from other common GIF makers like Giphy Cam or Phhhoto. Instagram must have finally thought, “Oh, hey, all these other companies are getting into the one-second clip game. Why don’t we try?”

So what to make of Instagram’s new feature? I put it through paces this weekend at a football game. What I found is that Boomerangs are instantaneous but not spontaneous. It was virtually impossible to capture something adequately in the moment for a perfect loop. The best Boomerangs are the ones you stage, as the rapid-fire five-photo shots can’t be edited from a longer set of photo bursts. Though you can edit the brief clip to be even more brief if you want a half-second loop.

So, for instance, if you want to shoot a Boomerang of your best bros just endlessly shotgunning beers you have to make sure to annoyingly let them know you’re trying to save the moment for posterity. Bros just wanna be bros, and you can’t just suddenly tell them to stop and wait for Instagram’s new app.

The process of waiting to delete an inadequate five-second photo burst to take another one is a momentary annoyance, but it delays you long enough for that desired moment to pass, never to be Boomerang’d again. Still, the app is ridiculously simple. It has all of two screens: one to take the Boomerang, and one to decide where to share it. From there it brings you to Instagram to add filters or to Facebook to add a caption and post.

Though waiting around to re-Boomerang something gets a tad frustrating, when you do happen to catch a great little moment it really works well. Maybe that’s the fun — Instagram hopes that serendipity and social media meet in an abrupt way that will live on in a micro loop forever, or at least so long as the Instagram servers stay live.

You can also make it look like no one ever touches a frisbee:

Or make it look like your parents’ cat is breakdancing:

Playing with foreground and background is interesting too. It lets you play up the living photos angle, but that reveals another drawback. Besides having no sound, Boomerang doesn’t let you zoom in. So if you want to capture people on the sidelines of a football game standing still among the pigskin action it’ll have to be from far away. This also plays into how the best Boomerangs will inevitably have to be staged.

With the Vine fad almost immediately running out and the relative indifference to Apple’s Live Photos, Boomerang seeks to fill that gap of capturing endless moments for quasi-creative ADD kids with millisecond attention spans.

It’s a nice little gimmick, and fun to fool around with, sort of like a slide whistle or a rubber bouncy ball. But now what? It’s not clear what Instagram could add to this experience. They could address simple gripes, but how will this feature really evolve?

Boomerang is a derivative add-on that’s moderately fun for a little bit, too tetchy to use on the regular. But hey, that doesn’t mean they aren’t cool to look at. Here are some of our favorites from users who also took the time to get loopy.