The Insanely Popular App That Mimics Those Flimsy Disposable Cameras From the ’90s

David's Disposable app shooting a pineapple.
David’s Disposable, aimed at a pineapple. David’s Disposable

This is the first installment of the occasional series “Why Is This App No. 1?”

The app: David’s Disposable, a mobile camera app released on Dec. 23, that has been downloaded well over a million times as of Thursday and temporarily occupied the No. 1 spot on Apple’s “Top Free Apps” list.

As the name suggests, the app nostalgically mimics the plastic disposable cameras of yore. While the hazy, overexposed aesthetic of the photos it takes isn’t all that different from what you can achieve in with Instagram or VSCO, David’s Disposable ups the verisimilitude by simulating the most inconvenient aspects of using a disposable camera. Using the app requires you to squint at a minuscule virtual viewfinder. And after you take the picture, you can’t see the resulting image until 9 a.m. the next day, a feature premised on the assumption that what kids really admire about disposable cameras is the wait time for developing photos.

Why is it popular? The app’s sudden success likely has a lot to do with its creator, 23-year-old David Dobrik, who is an immensely popular YouTube vlogger with 15.1 million subscribers. His videos contain standard influencer fare like stunts, pranks, expensive cars, giveaways, glamorous travels, and banter with an entourage of zany and photogenic characters. His relationship status is a constant source of breathless speculation in BuzzFeed, and a recent video of his giant elephant toothpaste experiment—it was actually pretty cool—made headlines in Business Insider and the Daily Mail. He’s also made inroads into more traditional media, lending his voice to The Angry Birds Movie 2 and appearing as a passed-out drunk in the music video for the late Juice WRLD’s song “Graduation.” Amir Ghodrati, director of market insights for the mobile analytics company App Annie, explained, “Dobrik having a dedicated fanbase of millions is a major boost for the launch—remember how quickly BTS World was able to get fans to download the app?” (Fans of BTS, the world’s most successful K-pop group, made the BTS World mobile game skyrocket to the No. 1 spot in the App Store within five hours.)

Dobrik has been playing with disposable cameras for a while now; the Los Angeles Times reported that he “keeps a bar cart stocked with Fujifilm QuickSnaps in his Studio City home.” In June, months before the app’s release, he created an @davidsdisposable Instagram page for his disposable camera photos. The page currently has 3 million followers and includes candid pics of Chris Hemsworth and John Stamos. Dobrik is also currently selling a calendar and hoodie with David’s Disposable logos, and formerly sold a $20 physical disposable camera with similar branding on Fanjoy, a platform where social-media influencers sell merch.

This social media strategy taps dovetails with a larger millennial and Gen Z disposable camera trend that the Times traces back to 2017. Indeed, Dobrik is far from the only influencer to create a separate Instagram account for pics from disposable cameras. The cameras have even been spotted in outfits at fashion shows in Paris and New York. The disposable camera app Huji Cam, which predates and is remarkably similar to David’s Disposable, has tens of millions of downloads and earned the endorsement of Selena Gomez. Plus, there seems to be a general hunger for products from the late ’80s and ’90s, like Champion sweatshirts and scrunchies. Why not ’90s-style wait times?

Star power and broader photography trends, however, don’t explain why nearly 60 percent of David’s Disposable’s total downloads mysteriously occurred over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday alone, according to the analytics firm Sensor Tower. The app’s developers did come out with a 1.1 version of the app fixing multiple bugs last weekend, and it recently won a spot on Apple’s curated “Apps We Love Right Now” list. It’s unclear, though, what exactly is driving this download bonanza.

Is the app any good? It certainly executes on its concept. The app’s interface looks almost identical to the backside of a Fujifilm QuickSnap camera. There are virtual renderings of the familiar switch for flash and a bulky shoot button. The bottom of the screen has an “information” phone number (1-800-DAV-VLOG) that you’ll find is disconnected if you try to call it. If your phone’s volume is on, the app will emit the sound of a click and a high-pitched flash-charging whine. Once you’ve taken your shots and waited until the next morning, you can have them printed and sent to you in three weeks for $1 per photo. This is presumably an option for people who unaware that you can just download the images directly and have them developed at Walgreens with same-day pick-up for 20 cents.

Here’s a screenshot of me trying to take a pic of my Nature Valley Oats ‘n Honey granola bar. Alas, the winding wheel on the top right is purely decorative.

A screenshot of the David's Disposable, with a Nature Valley granola bar seen through the camera lens
Remember when you were waiting for these cameras to become obsolete? David’s Disposable

I haven’t heard of this app. Am I old? Yes. But at least it’s an app for the old at heart.