The Apple TV 4K skates to where the puck was

apple tv 4k remote topdown

Among everything Apple announced at its press conference this week, the Apple TV 4K was the only one lacking a killer hook.

The new streaming box’s most noteworthy features are support for 4K HDR video—already table stakes in other high-end streaming boxes—and a faster processor for the Apple TV’s oft-neglected gaming features. The remote control got a slight redesign, perhaps to stop people from holding it wrong, and there’s gigabit ethernet instead of 10/100Mbps, but Apple introduced nothing on the hardware side to change the way we interact with our televisions.

The company did raise prices: The new Apple TV 4K costs $179, which is $30 more than the previous version (introduced in 2015). And while the two-year-old 1080p Apple TV is sticking around, it’ll carry the same $150 price tag that

This was an unusual segment in a presentation that otherwise focused on how Apple, in the words of worldwide marketing head Phil Schiller, tries to “skate to where the puck is going to be.” Schiller had just demoed the iPhone X, and was referring to a classic Wayne Gretzky quote as relayed by Steve Jobs a decade earlier. But while Apple’s new iPhone displayed foresight with its new approaches to security, augmented reality, and software design, the Apple TV is still playing catch-up.

All about VOD

The Apple TV 4K does have one unique angle: Beyond just Netflix and Amazon in 4K HDR, iTunes will offer movie purchases and rentals in the new format, and they’ll cost the same in 4K HDR as they do in HD. For purchases, prices should be around $20 per film, rather than the $25 or $30 per film that other stores charge currently. For rentals, the price will likely be around $5 per film instead of up to $10. Apple will also upgrade iTunes users’ existing HD purchases to 4K HDR at no extra charge, provided the films are available in the new format.

new appletv hummingbird 4k hdr comparisonApple
4K HDR does make a noticeable difference—especially on the HDR side.

4K HDR, with its crisper images and more vivid colors, is a genuine leap forward in video quality, so this might give some owners of the requisite 4K HDR televisions an incentive to buy. But for most people, it won’t register as a major benefit for a few reasons:

First, Apple hasn’t said how many 4K HDR titles it’ll have for purchase or upgrade, but we can probably get an idea by looking at other services. Vudu offers 121 movies in Ultra HD, compared to more than 24,000 films in standard or high definition, while FandangoNow lists 197 Ultra HD films, so it’s safe to assume most movies will remain in HD for a while. Disney has also indicated that it won’t offer 4K HDR movies on iTunes at all.

Second, digital purchases and rentals make up a small fraction of what people spend on video, especially compared to subscription streaming. Survey data supplied by Parks Associates shows that U.S. households on average spent less than $1 per month each for video purchases and rentals in Q3 2016, which is the last time Parks gathered this data. Those figures—which include both TV shows and movies—have been steadily declining over the past five years, while subscription streaming expenditure is sharply rising. Surveyed households spent around $8 per month on average for services like Netflix in Q3 2016.

parksdataParks Associates

Finally, the $179 Apple TV 4K is about $90 pricier than the Roku Premiere+ and about $110 pricier than the Chromecast Ultra. Rumored 4K HDR Fire TV devices from Amazon are expected to be much cheaper than the Apple TV 4K as well. That means the idea of saving money on 4K HDR iTunes movies rings a bit hollow.

At best, then, Apple’s pricing and upgrades create a modest Apple TV purchase incentive for 4K HDR TV owners. But given the dearth of available 4K HDR titles, the shortage of interest in digital movie purchases, and the strong preference among consumers for lower-cost streaming devices, selling discounted 4K HDR movies through iTunes isn’t a huge selling point overall.

(Still) not too late

The Apple TV can still redeem itself, and you can see some signs of foresight if you squint hard enough. As part of this week’s press conference, Apple announced support for live news and sports in its TV app, which aggregates video from various streaming apps into a single guide. ESPN, MLB, NBA, CNN, and Bloomberg are on board as early supporters.

appletv4kApple
The TV app is the Apple TV’s most forward-thinking feature.

In its current form, the TV app still seems like it’s searching for an audience. Antenna-friendly services like Tablo, Plex, and Channels aren’t supported, nor is Netflix, making it a tough sell for many cord-cutters. For streaming bundles like Sling TV and DirecTV Now, the patchy nature of TV Everywhere app support means you can’t reliably use the TV app in place of those bundles’ own apps. And the limited support for single sign-in among major cable providers means that using Apple TV instead of a cable box can be a hassle.

Yet with live sports and news, the TV app almost seems evermore like scaffolding for an Apple streaming bundle. Instead of creating an entirely new interface, Apple could just tie into TV Everywhere apps and embed its bundle directly into the Apple TV’s main menu, which also integrates with standalone services like Amazon Video and Crunchyroll. This sort of solution would be unique to the Apple TV, and could provide an easy off ramp from cable for many more people.

This is all just speculation, though, and 4K HDR has little to do with it. Compared to what cheaper streaming devices offer already, the Apple TV 4K’s namesake feature is only a minor perk for the small percentage of people who haven’t left Apple’s video ecosystem. Wherever the puck is going, it’s unlikely to travel through iTunes.

Pixel 2: Everything we know about Google’s next flagship phone

google pixel xl 2 resized

Google has begun to tease the launch of the Pixel 2 phones and will announce them on October 4.

Google flipped the script last year when it retired the Nexus line in favor of its own branded handsets. Now all eyes are on the Pixel 2. With improved specs and even better cameras, the new phones are poised to propel Google back to the head of the class with a pure Android O experience.

Since the Pixel and Pixel XL landed, the LG G6 and Galaxy S8 have upped the ante for premium phones with their slim bezels and 16:9 screens. So, like last year, we’ll be watching to see whether the next version of Google’s handset can chip away at Samsung’s dominance. Details are already starting to leak about the Pixel 2 phones, so stay tuned to this article for the very latest information:

Pixel 2 design and display

pixel 2 android policeAndroid Police
An alleged leaked render published by Android Police shows the second-generation Pixel XL with thin bezels and a 2:1 screen.

While the Pixel’s iPhone-inspired front seemed somewhat uninspired last year, it looks downright boring next to the bezel-slimming designs of LG’s G6 and Samsung’s Galaxy S8. Rumors suggest that will change. Android Police has gotten its hands on a supposed leak of the Pixel 2 XL rendering, where it appears to have a 2:1 screen like the G6 and S8, much thinner bezels, and smoother 3D edges (though the report says the glass will be flat, not curved). The site claims the new phone will sport a 6-inch AMOLED display manufactured by LG, which makes sense given Google’s reported $900 million investment in LG Display. The picture also shows a similar two-tone rear case with a smaller window of glass around the camera, a feature first reported by XDA Developers.  Android Police says that the XL model will represent “the cutting edge of Google’s engineering and design efforts, while the smaller device will act as a sort of entry-level option.”

pixel 2 leakGSMArena
This leaked image of the smaller Pixel 2 shows a device with big bezels and what looks like front stereo speakers

Speaking of the entry-level Pixel, XDA Developers reports it will feature a 4.97-inch, 1080p display similar to the current version’s, with an “almost identical” design. A leaked image published by GSMArena, above, seems to confirm this description. The spy shot shows a slightly more rectangular device with chunky bezels all around. Of note, there is a new speaker slit below the screen, suggesting the handset will have front-facing stereo speakers.

A series of 3D renders based on leaked design schematics confirm much of what Android Police and XDA Developers have reported as far as the design goes, with dimensions that match of very closely to the current models: 145.3 x 69.3 x 7.8 mm for the smaller model and 157.6 x 76.3 x 7.9 mm for the XL. But there’s one extra tidbit: There may be a camera bump as well.

Pixel 2 specs, features, and sound

Last year’s Pixel featured the then-top-of-the-line Snapdragon 821 chip, and this year’s Pixel may also incorporate high-quality silicon. XDA Developers claims the phones will be powered by the Snapdragon 835 chip, along with the same 4GB of RAM in the current models. A newer report from International Business Times claims that Google will be using an updated version of the chip, much like last year. The publication says it will be the the first phone to use the Snapdragon 836 chip, bringing “faster throughput with minimal power consumption.” Evan Blass all but confirmed the new chip with in a tweet announcing the date the new phones will be unveiled. However, recent reports say the phones will stick with the Snapdragon 835 chip in the Note 8, V30, and other phones.

Additionally, 9to5 Mac says both Pixels will come in two storage configurations, 64GB and 128GB, though it’s unclear whether they will replace the entry-level 32GB. The site also says the phones will feature always-on displays.

Audiophiles will be bummed to learn that Google might dump the headphone jack in the Pixel 2. XDA Developers and 9to5Google both report that the 3.5mm jack will be jettisoned in the new model in favor of stereo speakers. And the 3D renders we’ve seen all but confirm this report. However, audiophiles should rest a little easier knowing that Google has been hard at work at fixing the Bluetooth issues that plague the current models, as reveled in a recent Reddit AMA by Android O engineers.

Finally, Android Police reports that the new Pixel will have a squeezable frame like the HTC U11 to launch Google Assistant and other apps.

Pixel 2 water resistance

lg g6 waterproof fixedMichael Simon
Will the Pixel 2 bring water resistance like the LG G6?

It was somewhat surprising that Google opted to skip IP68 water resistance in the original Pixel, but there are signs it will rectify that in its next handset. As 9to5Google explains, the feature is “on the table” for the Pixel 2—although sources had previously informed the site that it was a priority for the next release.

Pixel 2 camera

pixel xl cameraJason Cross
The Pixel 2 camera will be better, but by how much?

If there’s one thing you can count on in a new flagship phone, it’s that the camera will be better. 9to5Google reports that Google won’t focus on megapixels with the Pixel 2, but rather will “compensate in extra features.” It’s unclear exactly what that means, but the site says the camera will be a “major focus” in the development of the Pixel 2. Additionally, XDA Developers reports that the Pixel 2 will stick with a single camera rather than a dual setup. And the render from Android Police bears this out, showing a single lens that is much larger than the current model, however it does appear to jut out ever so slightly from the case.

In a blog post, Google has already shown off some incredible results from its experimental nighttime photography techniques that use the existing Pixel camera to generate some incredible low-light images, and we’re hoping some of that processing power makes its way into the Pixel 2.

Pixel 2 price

Premium phones don’t usually go down in price, and the Pixel 2 isn’t about to break that trend. In fact, it might cost more. 9to5Google reports that Google’s next handset will be “at least” $50 higher than this year’s model, meaning it would start at $699 for the 5-inch model and top $800 for the Pixel 2 XL. Furthermore, a comment by Rick Osterloh confirms that the flagship Pixel will stay a “premium” phone, meaning it will fetch many hundreds of dollars.

Pixel 2 naming and release

pixel xl boxJason Cross
The Pixel 2 will likely release in late October.

Conventional wisdom has it that Google’s next phones will indeed be called the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. However, Google hasn’t always been linear with its naming. For example, the Nexus One was followed by the Nexus S and the Galaxy Nexus before the Nexus 4. So Google might throw us a curveball with the next Pixel.

But we do know the code names. Following the longstanding tradition, Google has internally named its new phones after fish. According to Android Police, the smaller of the two new phones is called Walleye while the XL version is Taimen. A third phone code-named Muskie was also in the works but has been shelved.

Google has started to tease the release of the Pixel 2 with a new websitefeaturing the tagline, “Thinking about changing phones?” There’s also a video set to Fat Joe’s “Still Not a Player” that addresses several problems that people have with Android phones, including battery life, storage, and photo quality. The video ends with, “Funny you should ask,” with the date of October 4.

But will it beat the Galaxy S8?

Will it beat the S8? That’s the million-dollar question. The Galaxy S8 is a force to be reckoned with, and Google certainly has its work cut out for it if it plans on besting Samsung’s latest flagship. The features listed here would go a long way toward giving the Pixel 2 bragging rights, but the main thing it needs is availability, both through Google’s online store and through additional carrier support. For more on what the Pixel 2 needs to be the best phone of 2017, read our analysis.

Windows 10: Microsoft promises to fix an ongoing game-stuttering problem

rocket league

If your PC games have been plagued by starts and stops and other “stuttering” issues, you’re not alone. Microsoft has identified “several different problem sources” that can cause stutter within the current Windows 10 Creators Update, the company said.

As reported by Neowin, Windows 10 users have reported incidents of “stutter” on games like Overwatch, Rocket League, Mass Effect, and others. The stutter, or unexpected choppiness in frame rates, appear to be affecting games and in some cases general PC use as well. Gamers are complaining about this issue both on sites like Nvidia’s forums but also on the Feedback Hub application within Windows 10.

So far, neither Microsoft nor anyone else appears to have nailed down the problem. In a statement that’s been reproduced across the Feedback Hub in several threads, however, Microsoft says it has identified several “problem sources” that may be contributing to the issue. For now, the best bet seems to be joining the Windows 10 Insider program.

“Thank you everyone for providing feedback and submitting traces,” according to a statement provided by “Peter K.,” a Microsoft engineer. “We have been analyzing the traces from your feedback and have identified several different problem sources surfacing as stutter in games. We have a fix for one of them in the Windows Insider build that flighted to the “Fast” ring (build 16273 and above). You can find instructions on joining the Windows 10 Insider Program here. We are actively investigating the remaining stutter causes and appreciate your patience on this issue.”

Build 16273 of the Insiders Program, released August 23, contained a few feature updates including a new font and mixed-reality controls. However, Microsoft has moved into the “bug-fixing” portion of its development process, in preparation for the Fall Creators Update to be deployed on Oct. 17.

What this means for you: On one hand, it’s nice to know that Microsoft has at least confirmed the issue, identified some of the causes, and has begun working on a solution. Still, those stuttering issues have apparently been present since March, when the Creators Update launched to the installed base of Windows 10 at large. Most gamers would probably hope for a more prompt response in the future.

Google Chrome will start blocking noisy autoplay videos in January

pcw chrome primary

Google is taking aim at one of the biggest scourges of the modern web. Starting in January 2018, the Chrome browser will automatically block noisy autoplay video on webpages.

“One of the most frequent user concerns is unexpected media playback, which can use data, consume power, and make unwanted noise while browsing,” Google wrote in a blog post. “To address this, Chrome will be making autoplay more consistent with user expectations and will give users more control over audio.”

[ Further reading: Best web browsers of 2017: Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Opera go head-to-head ]

In Chrome 64, autoplaying videos will be blocked by default unless they’re muted, or if “the user has indicated an interest in the media.” That means autoplay will be allowed for a site if you’ve frequently played a video on it or added the site to your mobile homepage. You won’t need to manually play every YouTube video or Twitch stream you select, in other words. Autoplay will also be enabled if you “clicked somewhere on the site during the browsing session” for some reason.

If you want to start blocking unwanted audio from autoplay videos today, try Avram Piltch’s Silent Site Sound Blocker extension for Chrome. Apple’s Safari 11 browser will also allow you to easily stop autoplay videos when it launches with macOS High Sierra on September 25.

Mute websites in Chrome

Google’s paving the path for the wonderful-sounding feature by adding the ability to completely mute all audio for a given website in Chrome 63, which is currently in the testing phase. The disabling will continue between browsing sessions.

To activate page-muting when Chrome 63 goes live, load the website you want to disable audio for, click on the “Page Info bubble” to the left of the URL, and look for the Sound option. Here’s a picture of it:

chrome 63 sound settings

Francois Beaufort/Google

The story behind the story: Noisy autoplay videos aren’t the only online bane in Google’s sights. Native ad-blocking capabilities are coming to Chrome soon. “We plan to have Chrome stop showing ads (including those owned or served by Google) on websites that are not compliant with the Better Ads Standards starting in early 2018,” Google’s Sridhar Ramaswamy announced earlier this year. Chrome’s ad-blocker won’t eliminate all ads—only the most distracting and burdensome ones.

Dell is selling our favorite budget gaming laptop for $800 right now

Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming

Bargains are in a bit of a lull before the holidays arrive, but there are still a few decent deals out there. Right now, Dell is offering a 15-inch gaming laptop with a Core i5 Kaby Lake processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card for $800, and IPS screen.

That last detail—the IPS screen—makes this price particularly appealing, given our experience with the Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming earlier this year. Back at launch, we loved its performance but were disappointed with its washed-out TN display. Dell eventually ended up offering a $50 upgrade to an IPS display during the ordering process, but now it’s a standard feature.

Even despite the TN display, this laptop had so much value for its price that it’s held the spot of “Best budget gaming laptop” in our list of best laptopssince its launch. This particular configuration is one step up from the base model, with a solid-state drive and a GTX 1050 Ti (instead of GTX 1050) for graphics. Compared to the standard 1050, the Ti version doubles the amount of graphics RAM to 4GB and bumps up the CUDA cores from 640 to 768.

For performance, you can expect to hit between 40 to 50 frames per second in most modern games set at max graphical settings—or about 60 fps if you’re willing to drop down to High. We also got surprisingly long battery life during regular tasks, like video playback. (Though to be fair, that was on the TN panel, so it’s possible the IPS screen could suck more energy.) Not shabby at all for $800.

Dell Inspiron 15 7000

CCleaner hacked with malware: What you need to know

malware cybersecurity skull crossbone

It seems that CCleaner, one of PCWorld’s recommendations for the best free software for new PCs, might not have been keeping your PC so clean after all. In an in-depth probe of the popular optimization and scrubbing software, Cisco Talos has discovered a malicious bit of code injected by hackers that could have affected more than 2 million users who downloaded the most recent update.

On Sept. 13, Cisco Talos found that the official download of the free versions of CCleaner 5.33 and CCleaner Cloud 1.07.3191 also contained “a malicious payload that featured a Domain Generation Algorithm as well as hardcoded Command and Control functionality.” What that means is that a hacker infiltrated Avast Piriform’s official build somewhere in the development process build to plant malware designed to steal users’ data.

Cisco Talon suspects that the attacker “compromised a portion of (CCleaner’s) development or build environment and leveraged that access to insert malware into the CCleaner build that was released and hosted by the organization.” As such, customers’ personal information was not at risk.

According to Avast, the malware doesn’t seem to have affected any machines in the wild. In a blog post by vice president of products Paul Yung, he states that the company identified the attack on Sept. 12 and had taken the appropriate action even before Cisco Talos notified them of their discovery. Yung says the attack was limited to CCleaner and CCleaner Cloud on 32-bit Windows systems—fortunately, most modern PCs will likely be running the 64-bit version.

Yung assures customers that the threat has been resolved and the “rogue server” has been taken down. He also says Piriform has shut down the hackers’ access to other servers. Additionally, the company is moving all users to the latest version of the software, which is already available on the company’s website (though the release notes only mention “minor big fixes.”)

Most reassuringly, Yung states that Avast was seemingly able to disarm the threat before it was able to do any harm. The intent of the attack is unclear at this time, though Avast says the code was able to collect information about the local system.

Users can download CCleaner 5.34 from Avast’s website if they haven’t already done so. Previous releases are also still available on the company’s website, but the infected version has been removed from the company’s servers. You’ll also want to perform an antivirus scan on your computer. If you’re affected, Cisco Talos recommends using a backup to restore your PC to a state prior to August 15, 2017, which is when the hacked version was released.

The impact on you at home: While users within the target area shouldn’t see any impact from this attempted attack, it’s still a scary notion. While Avast got in front of the issue and resolved it without incident, smaller companies might not be able to react so quickly. For example, earlier this year, it was found that a breach at Ukranian software company MeDoc was responsible for the NotPetya ransomware. Ransomware is becoming a troubling trend, and if hackers are able to infect infect update servers they can spread malware to as many machines as possible.

Microsoft confirms Outlook issues

Microsoft graphic

Microsoft has confirmed that some users of its email service Outlook are unable to send email or access their accounts.

Hundreds from around Europe have commented on the website Downdetectorthat they have been affected by the problem – many since Monday morning.

One common issue seems to be that sent emails remain in the drafts folder and are not being delivered to recipients.

On its website, Microsoft says the service dropped “unexpectedly” and it is working on a fix.

Not all account holders are affected.

“Intermittent connectivity is affecting customers in some European countries, which we are working to resolve as soon as possible,” said a Microsoft representative.

Outlook incorporates Hotmail and Windows Live Hotmail accounts.

On its service status page, Microsoft is currently saying that an “alternate infrastructure” is being used while the service is restored.

“We’ve identified that a subset of infrastructure was unable to process requests as expected, which caused general service availability to drop unexpectedly,” it says.

“We’ve redirected requests to alternate infrastructure to restore service, and we’re monitoring the environment while connectivity recovers.

“Additionally, we’re investigating an issue in which users are unable to send email messages.”

Microsoft Paint avoids brush with death

New Doctor Who in Paint

Microsoft has confirmed that it will continue to offer its graphics program Paint.

In a recent update, it had listed Paint as a feature that would be either removed or no longer developed.

Paint, renowned for its simplicity, has been part of the Windows operating system since its launch in 1985.

Microsoft suggested it would not remain on Windows 10 by default but did say it would be available for free on the Windows Store.

Its successor, Paint 3D, will be part of the Windows 10 package.

Mountain scene done in Paint by ValprineImage copyright@VALPRINE
Image captionThis mountain scene was shared by user Valprine on Twitter.

There had been an outpouring of support for the program on social media, following the publication of the list on 24 July.

“If there’s anything we learned, it’s that after 32 years, MS Paint has a lot of fans,” Microsoft wrote in a blog.

“It’s been amazing to see so much love for our trusty old app.”

  • The artist who only uses Microsoft Paint

There does not appear to have been a similar reprieve for other features on the list of casualties.

These included the Outlook Express email client, now replaced by Mail.

Paddington Bear in Paint

Uber sorry for ‘Wife Appreciation Day’ promotion

two men walking past Uber HQ

Uber has apologised after being accused on social media of sexism in a promotional message sent to customers in Bangalore.

The message urged “husbands” to “let your wife take a day off from the kitchen”, with a discount on its Uber Eats food delivery service.

It said: “Dear husbands, a gentle reminder – today is Wife Appreciation Day.”

Uber later tweeted that the message had been “totally inappropriate”.

“We’ve removed it, and we apologise,” it said on the social media platform.

Uber’s chief brand ambassador, Bozoma Saint John, also tweeted it had been “completely unacceptable”.

“Sorry Uber but why do you think that only the ‘wife’ needs to be at the kitchen!” tweeted @GNUmanth.

However, the campaign did not cause much of a stir locally.

“Most people on Monday did not seem to know about the promo or even the negative impression it is said to have created,” BBC journalist Ayeshea Perera said.

“It did not create any impression on social media, and the story is missing from the city’s main tabloids and newspapers.”

Uber’s main competitors in the food delivery market were apps such as Zomato and Swiggy, she added.

“But if Uber is to be taken seriously, it will have to be careful to avoid carelessly worded messages like this one and come up with something more imaginative,” she said.

Sexism at Uber

This year, Uber conducted an investigation into claims of sexual harassment within the company, and fired more than 20 people following a damning review.

Senior executives who left the company included Uber founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick.

The review was carried out after a blog post by former Uber engineer Susan J Fowler, which documented her experiences of alleged sexism at the company, went viral.

Mr Kalanick described her experiences as “abhorrent” and against the company’s values.

How to make money the Instagram way

Donna McCulloch, stylist

Instagram, the Facebook-owned photo app, has become a lucrative shop window for many small entrepreneurs. So what are the secrets of its success?

When Facebook bought the photo app Instagram in 2012 for a cool $1bn (£760m), eyebrows were raised at the value the tech giant had placed on this 18-month-old start-up.

Fast forward to 2017, and while Instagram may still be Facebook’s little sister, it has built a sizeable community of 700 million users – dwarfing both Twitter and Snapchat.

With improved photo filters and the addition of Instagram Stories, a feature that lets users upload short videos that disappear after 24 hours, the platform has become a big hit with freelancers and small organisations looking to reach new audiences.

So how can you use it to make money?

“Instagram is your shop front,” says Donna McCulloch, a fashion stylist who works under the name Sulky Doll.

“People don’t ask for business cards any more – they ask for your ‘handle’ [Instagram nickname]. It’s instant – you both get your phones out, and you’re connected.”

Cat Meffan in yoga poseImage copyrightCAT MEFFAN
Image captionYoga enthusiast Cat Meffan was “shocked and excited” by Instagram’s marketing power

For yoga instructor Cat Meffan, the glamorous images she posts of herself in impressive yoga positions in picturesque locations around the world are intended to inspire and motivate her 77,000 followers.

But they also help her to build her business.

“I sold out my first yoga retreat in five days and all I did was put up one Instagram post,” she says.

“I was extremely shocked and excited. That’s the power of Instagram.”

Cat says she’ll spend up to an hour crafting the captions alongside her photos – sometimes more than she’ll spend on taking the photo itself.

“Sometimes I’ll go out and do a photoshoot with my partner. But usually it’s me with a self-timer or holding the phone.”

Like Donna, Cat finds adding hashtags to her photos a useful way of reaching a new audience. A search for #yoga, for example, will bring up her images, along with those of others, while Donna’s #OOTD (Outfit of The Day) are by far her most popular.

“It’s a nice way of finding like-minded people,” says Cat.

Selena GomezImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionSinger Selena Gomez has 126 million followers on Instagram

Both women also use the Stories feature to post videos which, they say, show them as they really are – an antidote to the artificial gloss that many Instagrammers are notorious for adding to their images.

“Stories allow people to get more of a handle on you as a person and a brand,” says Donna.

“Stories are like peeking behind the net curtains. The biggest compliment is when people say you come across the same in real life as you do on your feed [Instagram page].”

Both Cat and Donna have built their Instagram pages tightly around a very specific theme – yoga/wellness and fashion, respectively.

That’s important if you want to grow the number of people who follow you says Danny Coy, a photographer with 173,000 followers who now also works as an Instagram consultant.

For £300 a month his firm Vibrance says it can “typically” grow an account by 2,000 followers every four weeks. Techniques for attracting followers include posting regularly and having a bank of interesting images to hand.

“You don’t have to post every day, but engagement peaks – after 24 hours it’s done,” he says.

“It’s important to stick to your niche.”

Danny Coy sitting by the seaImage copyrightDANNY COY
Image captionPhotographer Danny Coy thinks Instagrammers should stay focused on what they do best

That’s Instagram’s advice, too.

“If you tell a different story every time you come to Instagram people will struggle to understand what you’re trying to communicate,” says Jen Ronan, the firm’s head of small business for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

“Make sure you’re thoughtful about what you want your customers to know and ensure that you’re consistently reinforcing this over time.”

Many of Danny’s clients are companies, he says, who want to boost their numbers in order to look “legitimate” on the platform.

“From time to time it’ll be an up-and-coming photographer who feels they can’t get the numbers they deserve,” he says. “Everyone has to start somewhere.”

Instagrammers with a significant number of followers may be approached by brands seeking “influencers” or “ambassadors” to represent them – for a fee.

More Technology of Business

Technology logoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Incorporating brand products and imagery into photos and videos can be a lucrative sideline, although you have to make clear which content is sponsored under Instagram rules.

Donna McCulloch doesn’t do it: “I think I would lose my integrity,” she says, although she does admit to wearing clothes she’s been given.

“But it’s because I wanted it,” she maintains.

And Cat Meffan says she spends a lot of time “saying no” to brands she doesn’t think are right for her – but she does accept some.

“There’s no set fee in the Instagram world,” she says. “You have a discussion [with the brand] and you have what you think you’re worth.”

Danny Coy says: “Eighteen months ago I could easily be turning over £2,000-£3,000 a month in terms of influencer content.”

But he says the market is tailing off because brands have wised up. If an Instagrammer tags a brand in a post independently, the brand can use the image without payment.

“Most will ask first,” he says. “But once you’ve tagged them and put it on Instagram they don’t have to ask your permission.”

Dr Mariann Hardey with dogImage copyrightMARIANN HARDEY
Image captionMariann Hardey thinks the Instagram community doesn’t mind branded content if it’s entertaining

But isn’t it a bit of a turn-off being marketed to by people whose content you admire? And do viewers sometimes not realise they are looking at paid-for content?

Mariann Hardey, assistant professor of marketing at Durham University, thinks the Instagram community isn’t that gullible.

“It’s easy to get het up that influencers are taking over and people don’t understand they are seeing paid content, but the main users of Instagram are extremely savvy at being able to filter content that is branded or sponsored,” she says.

What’s most important is “whether the post is fun” and the pictures are “pretty”, she adds.