Early reviews to Instagram’s Reels: a TikTok rival that’s a TikTok clone

Three Instagram reels: a plane in flight, a moonrise, a bird eating pizza
Screenshots showing sample clips from Instagram's Reels feature.(By Rob Pegoraro)

Facebook’s Instagram launched Reels yesterday, an answer to TikTok that’s more of an Echo. Initial reactions may not delight Facebook’s designers but should please its financial types: no creativity seen, quite possibly no creativity needed.

“It's not like TikTok. It's not inspired by TikTok,” wrote business advisor and tech consultant Shelly Palmer in his Think About This daily email. “It's a direct rip.”

The feature has had a somewhat modest debut in that the Instagram app does not hit one over the head with it. To see Reels other people have posted, tap the magnifying-glass icon to open Insta’s Explore screen, and you’ll see Reels spotlighted at the top.

From then on, it operates very much like TikTok—swipe down to go from one clip to the next, just as you would in ByteDance’s popular app. TikTok muscle memory is 100% compatible.

To create a Reel, tap the “Your Story” icon at the top right and then tap “Reels” from the menu at the bottom of that screen.

Palmer gave Instagram credit for looking better than TikTok and surfacing more content right away.

“The first thing I noticed was Reels' exceptional video quality; videos on Reels look objectively better than videos on TikTok,” he wrote. “I also noticed that Instagram (Facebook) has enough data to feed me a steady stream of relevant, entertaining content.”

Cloning TikTok’s interface, however, by itself may not suffice for popularity.

"Facebook has a mixed track record when it comes to copying other companies' features,” eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson commented in a research note. “Instagram did it extremely well with Stories, which it copied from Snapchat. I believe Instagram has a similar opportunity with Reels, but it's not a guaranteed success.”

She advised keeping in mind the different motivations users—especially the millennials and Generation Z kids populating TikTok—bring to social apps.

“Social media users, especially younger users, tend to use social platforms for different things,” she wrote. “They use Instagram to follow their passions and their interests, and they use TikTok to entertain themselves.”

The independent variable in this equation involves a third party that’s also quite active on social media: President Trump, who has threatened to ban TikTok over its Chinese ownership before endorsing a Microsoft bid to buy the app’s U.S. operations and then—a transaction that he wants to see yield a payoff to the U.S. treasury, notwithstanding the lack of any legal basis for such a kickback.

RELATED: Microsoft gets Trump green-light to buy TikTok

EMarketer’s Williamson suggested TikTok users’ loyalty to the app would win the day.

“Even if TikTok were to be banned in the U.S. (which I think is unlikely to happen), users would find a way to keep using it,” she wrote. “They are incredibly loyal and protective of TikTok."

Palmer, however, focused on the business issues for influencers.

“My prediction: TikTok is about to go the way of Snapchat, and not because of the product features (those will evolve), but because every serious, successful TikTok creator sends you to their Instagram page for more info,” he wrote. “If you can do it all on Insta, you're going to do it all on Insta.”