Turns out, you won't have to wait until Apple rolls out group FaceTime in iOS 12 to have video chats with multiple friends: Today, Instagram is rolling out video chatting within Direct, which will allow you to talk to up to four people at once.
To start a video chat, open Instagram and tap the paper plane icon in the upper right-hand corner to go to Direct (or, simply swipe across your Feed from right to left). Once there, select an existing chat with friends or start a new one. When you open a message, tap on the new video icon in the upper right-hand corner to begin a face-to-face call.
Although group FaceTime wins in terms of quantity — you will be able to chat with up to 32 people at once — Instagram's version of video chatting has a major bonus: You can minimise the video screen and keep scrolling through your Feed or posting Stories. Of course, this multitasking may make you a bit distracted. (If you're having a serious conversation, you probably don't want to continue posting beach photos at the same time.)
This news comes fresh on the heels of last week's major video-focused announcement, the launch of Instagram's long-form video hub, IGTV. Today's release could spell trouble for another video chat app, HouseParty, which is currently popular with the under-24 crowd.
Instagram is also rolling out two other updates today: Branded camera effects and topic channels on Explore.
The branded camera effects are similar to the kinds Snapchat has increasingly collaborated with creators on, and will include a mix of designs by companies, influencers, and celebrities. There's one from Ariana Grande, others from Liza Koshy and Musical.ly star Baby Ariel, as well as ones from the NBA and BuzzFeed. However, these effects aren't forced on non-fans: You will only see them in your Instagram camera if you follow the account behind the effect.
Explore's new topic channels, meanwhile, offer a useful way to curate Instagram's discovery feed. The topics are broad — art, travel, and animals, among others — but will make it easier to separate posts according to your interests.
If you don't want to look at the animal channel, you can mute it in the same way you mute Stories and posts from accounts you follow in your Feed. Simply press and hold on the channel name and select "Mute." The channel will still appear on Explore, but will be at the end of channel list, so you can scroll through to find and unmute it at any later point.