Apr
17
2014

Dropbox Acquires Loom

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With a notice posted on their website today, Loom, a photo storage and management service originally launched in July 2013, announced that they’ve been acquired by Dropbox and will be joining the company.

Often regarded as “what Apple’s Photo Stream” should have been, Loom was designed to keep one library of photos in sync across devices, with support for albums, full-res versions of the original files, and more. Built to let users delete media from their local devices, Loom featured support for both photos and videos, with automatic upload functionalities in a native iOS app and a desktop uploader for OS X.

From Loom’s original description:

We needed something that works seamlessly. A personal media library that is the same wherever you go, and there when you need it. Something effortlessly expandable, that can grow with your library, so you never run out of space. Easy to organize and manage, giving you complete control.

That is why we built Loom. We’re making it quick and easy for you to access and manage your entire photo and video library on every device, without taking up local storage space.

On April 9, Dropbox officially introduced Carousel, an iPhone and Android app aimed at replacing a device’s local Camera Roll with Dropbox photo storage. Carousel displays photos with a vertical grid of thumbnails reminiscent of Loom, and, like Loom, it supports both photos and videos stored in the cloud; unlike Loom, Carousel doesn’t have iPad or web clients for now, as it’s limited to an iPhone app with basic web sharing features. Loom allowed users to manage uploads on their computers with a desktop uploader, an option that is already available in the official Dropbox app for OS X with automatic Camera Uploads.

From Loom’s announcement:

We know this is a big deal. This decision was made with great care. We have worked hard on our product and feel that our vision aligns perfectly with Dropbox’s vision for Carousel. Dropbox has invested the past seven years focusing on building a secure home for your files. And now with Carousel comes a home for your photos and videos as well. We share the common goal of crafting a high quality product, always putting users’ needs first. After spending some serious time investigating if this was the right move for us, we realized that Dropbox has solved many problems around scaling infrastructure and at Dropbox the Loom team will be able to focus entirely on building great features with a fantastic user experience. We are enthusiastic about being able to contribute our ground level perspective to help craft a beautiful experience for our users. And at the end of the day, that’s what matters most to us.

Loom allowed users to set up a free trial with 5 GB of storage and the possibility to extend free space to 10 GB through referrals; the service had both monthly and yearly plans starting at $4.99 and $49.99 respectively for 50 GB of storage.

For existing Loom users, Dropbox has built a migration tool that will transfer photos from Loom to Dropbox; Loom storage will be converted to Dropbox storage for free users, while Loom Pro customers will keep the same storage on Dropbox for free, for a year. Existing Loom users will be able to continue using the service until May 16, 2014; users will also be able to request an archive of their libraries with original photos and videos in a .zip archive.

Loom marks the second acquisition by Dropbox in the past month — in late March, the company acquired social reading app Readmill for an undisclosed sum.

Apr
17
2014

Photos+, which I first covered in December when Second Gear launched it on the App Store, has today been updated to version 1.1, adding Dropbox integration and finding a new home at SilverPine Software.

Photos+ 1.0 was a simple Photos.app replacement with viewing features that supported EXIF metadata for location, time stamps, and more. From my original review:

Photos+ provides an alternative way to view photos you’ve taken on your iPhone if you don’t like the new Photos app of iOS 7. Photos+ doesn’t have any time or location-based sorting feature – it’s a mosaic of large photo thumbnails displayed in reverse chronological order (from newest to oldest). There are no settings, no filters to exclude screenshots from the list, and no special gestures to learn. As you scroll, you can tap thumbnails to open photos in full-screen; when you want to dismiss a photo, you flick it up or down like a card.

Photos+ 1.1 has kept the app’s straightforward approach and visualization of photos, but thanks to Dropbox integration it can now look for photos inside a Dropbox folder. Photos loaded from the Dropbox retain the same options of local photos: you can view metadata, share photos, and open a location panel to see where a photo was taken on a map. Obviously, the app requires a few extra seconds to load a full-resolution photo from Dropbox — thumbnails are loaded at a lower-res to speed up the experience — but everything else works just like the old app.

Unfortunately, I can’t use Photos+ 1.1 with my current Dropbox photo management workflow because the app doesn’t support sub-folders: the app can only load photos stored in a single folder (like the default Camera Uploads one in Dropbox), and this means that I can’t currently use Photos+as a photo viewer for my photo collection, which is organized in folders for years and sub-folders for months. I understand that most users who rely on Dropbox for photo storage and management usually keep photos in one folder, but I think it’d be nice to provide a setting to specify where and how the app should look for photos in your account (Carousel, released last week by Dropbox, shares a similar problem).

Photos+ 1.1 is available on the App Store.

Even more ingenious is the way Carousel surfaces photos it thinks you’re most likely to want to see. To start, the app scans every photograph in your collection for human faces. Based on the qualities of the mugs it detects, it assigns each picture a “smile score.” The one with the highest ranking for a given event is displayed with a double-size thumbnail, serving as a sort of hero shot for that subset of pics.

Wired's Kyle Vanhemert talked to Gentry Underwood about some of the UI details in Carousel – as I wrote, there are some fantastic touches in the app. The way thumbnails are generated and deployed is quite clever.

Apr
9
2014

Carousel

Carousel, a new gallery app released today by Dropbox, aims at providing an integrated solution for all photos and videos stored in a Dropbox account, unifying them in a single interface that automatically sorts files by time and location. As someone who relies on Dropbox and a custom workflow for photo backup, management, and viewing, I followed today’s announcements with curiosity and anticipation – the company’s previous photo products weren’t the most advanced or versatile ones on the App Store, but they showed an interest for turning Dropbox into a cloud-based Camera Roll, which is where Apple is struggling with its confusing Photo Stream.

I’m still exploring various possibilities for my photo management workflow (I played around with Everpix, Loom, Picturelife, Unbound, and many other services and clients) and Carousel offers an interesting take on the problem: it’s photo and video archival based on Dropbox storage, but it’s also a separate iOS app with sharing options that include messaging and public links on the web.

I took Carousel for a spin[1] this afternoon, and I collected some first impressions below. They’re not exhaustive, but I believe they’re fairly indicative of the app’s current state and limitations. (more…)

Alongside Carousel, today Dropbox also announced an update to Mailbox for iOS and showed the first screenshots of a Mailbox beta for OS X. In Mailbox for iOS, Dropbox is introducing a feature called Auto-Swipe, which will let the app learn a user’s patterns for archiving, deleting, or snoozing emails containing certain addresses or subjects and try to perform the same action automatically in the future:

Today, we’re proud to announce a new service built directly into Mailbox that learns from your swipes and snoozes to automate common actions. Mute that thread you don’t care about, snooze messages from your friends until after work, and route receipts to a list — automatically. We call this service Auto-swipe.

According to a post on the Mailbox blog, Auto-Swipe is made possible by the service’s new infrastructure, likely helped by resources made available by Dropbox (the company was acquired by Dropbox in March 2013). In a feature story at The Verge, Ellis Hamburger has shared details on how Auto-Swipe will work and even integrate with Mailbox for Mac:

If you want to manually archive any thread for good before waiting on Mailbox’s suggestion, you can open it up, and then tap and hold on the archive button. Similarly, if you keep snoozing your Groupon emails until after work, or your club soccer emails until Friday afternoons, Mailbox will notice your actions and offer to do them for you for incoming emails of those kinds. Or you can manually invoke action by tapping and holding on the snooze button. The goal is to remove all the clutter you didn’t even know existed — the messages that you assumed needed to stay in your inbox because they showed no signs of stopping.

Mailbox for Mac will sport a design inspired by the popular iOS app, with support for quick gestures and snooze (two of the app’s marquee additions to classic email) and a clean widescreen layout to manage accounts and lists. The Mailbox Mac app isn’t available today, but Dropbox is letting users apply for a beta invitation here.

At a press event held in San Francisco this morning, Dropbox announced Carousel, a new dedicated gallery app that combines all of a user’s photos and videos from all connected devices in a single interface. Carousel will be available both as an iOS and Android app, separate from the main Dropbox client but based on the same storage space.

During the event, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston announced that the company has now 700 employees and over 275 million users, who rely on Dropbox to store a variety of personal and work files, documents, and media. With Carousel, Dropbox allows users to look at photos and videos stored in their accounts, which are automatically sorted by time and location: large thumbnail previews group related items together by location, while a timeline scrubber at the bottom allows users to quickly navigate through time to view and select old photos.

According to Dropbox, Carousel is faster than Apple’s built-in Photos app when dealing with hundreds of files even though they are stored in the cloud, and not on a user’s local device. Carousel is built with sharing in mind: the app makes it easy to select multiple photos and send them to another person directly from the app alongside a message; the recipient can then view the full-resolution photos, and optionally save them to Carousel.

Dropbox has long enabled users to automatically upload new photos from their devices through the official Dropbox client, but Carousel marks the company’s debut into the photo and video management space with a dedicated app that’s been specifically created for upload, management, and sharing outside of the Dropbox client.

From the Dropbox blog post:

It combines the photos in your Dropbox with the photos on your phone, and automatically backs up new ones as you take them. Carousel sorts all these memories by event so you can easily travel back in time to any photo from any date. And unlike other mobile galleries, the size of your Carousel isn’t constrained by the space on your phone, which means you can finally have your entire life’s memories in one place.

Carousel will be available for free on the App Store later today. We’ve embedded the official promo video below.
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Nebulous Notes, a Dropbox-enabled text editor with a macro system, has been updated for iOS 7 with a design refresh and fixes for iOS 7.1 (via Macdrifter).

Nebulous Notes is the app that kickstarted my interest in automating tasks on iOS thanks to its macros, and while I've switched to Editorial for my daily writing, Nebulous Notes is still a great choice on the iPhone. Combined with Byword for publishing, Nebulous Notes lets you speed up writing on the iPhone to assemble posts on the go; the macros that I published in October 2012 still work today, and some additions to the macro system were brought with version 6.1 released in November 2012.

Nebulous Notes is available at $4.99 on the App Store.

Bradley Chambers writes about Dropbox and last week's price cut for Google Drive:

Dropbox has been the king of the folder syncing hill for a few years now. Transporter is doing a end-run around on Dropbox by offering similar functionality with no monthly fees (and using onsite storage). Google is doing a full frontal assault with the price cut. Google is offering 100GB at 75% less than Dropbox at this time.

How does Dropbox respond? One thing they need is a great web presence. Dropbox's web interface is for viewing, organizing, deleting, and viewing. With Google Drive, you can create and edit spreadsheets, presentations, and documents. Dropbox needs to add this feature, but they also need to provide more. What could they do without matching the price?

I think that Bradley's proposed solutions make a lot of sense from a productivity standpoint, but I'll add this: revamp the Photos product on the web and mobile apps. Last year, Dropbox launched a series of enhancements to make it easier to upload photos and share them, but the presentation options and management features still lack behind what dedicated solutions like Picturelife, Flickr, and even Google+ are providing (not to mention the defunct, beloved Everpix).

The Photos view on Dropbox is limited, and while it aggregrates photos from your account and organizes them chronologically, it doesn't do much else. Dropbox is already storing user files and they're way past the problem of scaling, so they shouldn't run into the same issues of a startup like Everpix in terms of costs. If done right, photo backup and management with options to tag people, browse albums and locations, and easily share through Dropbox with family members could become an important part of the Dropbox product, if only because photos are personal, people care about them, and clearly no one has solved the photo problem yet – not Apple, not Flickr, and not Loom or Picturelife yet. Dropbox may not cut prices as much as Google, but a terrific Photos product could add a lot of value to the service.

Could Dropbox “fix” photo backup and management this year, or do they feel like Apple and Google will eventually get it just right (especially Apple, which is in an extremely sorry state of confusing Photo Stream affairs these days). Or does Dropbox prefer focusing on productivity features such as the ones Bradley imagines? Could they do both?

Released last week on the App Store, UpWord is a list-making app that works with Dropbox and that lets you quickly add notes and manage them in lists with gestures. The app isn't perfect, but it's got some interesting ideas.

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