Instagram's web version has usually played second fiddle to its phone apps. While you could check out photos or look at your notifications, you weren't going to use it in place of native software. You might want to take a second look, though, as Instagram has upgraded its mobile website to add some of the core features that you take for granted in the app. The social network quietly added photo sharing in March, and just introduced the Explore tab. You still can't apply filters, post videos, handle direct messages or view Stories, but all the basics are there.
The company tells our TechCrunch colleagues that this is about providing a "fuller experience" regardless of the "device or network" you're using. To put it another way, it's Instagram's parallel to Facebook Lite. This helps people in developing regions use the service without having to download a relatively huge app (the iOS version currently sits at 101MB) over a slow connection, and extends compatibility to phones that have modern web browsers but can't download the app for one reason or another.
And just like with Facebook Lite, there are strong incentives to reach this wider audience. If Instagram wants to keep up its rapid growth for as long as possible, it can't just stick to people with fast data and the latest devices. It has to court the many millions of people that have just enough bandwidth and mobile computing power to post a snapshot. This expansion also reduces the chances that an upstart service will take Instagram's potential users.