Last week Shoebox announced it’s closing its door on May 22nd, signifying the end of an era when one innovative cloud-based photo management/synching solution after another came to market in the 2010-2015 timeframe.
Founded in 2012, Shoebox has always stood out to me for its novel interface, which enabled users to search for photos by leveraging the photo’s metadata in innovative ways. For instance, you could filter your photo collection by the camera model you used, your location, time of the week, year and month, or season.
MyShoebox even showed graphs with the frequency of photos for a certain filter setting, such as how many of your photos were taken on Friday afternoons in the fall.
I covered Shoebox in our The Dispersed Photo Challenge Study back in 2013. At that time a number of vendors started tackling the problem that confounded consumers who took photos with multiple cameras (say, DLSR + smartphone), and edited, organized or ordered print products on multiple devices (such as their home + work computer + smartphone + tablet).
How to aggregate or sync these photos for anywhere, anytime access?
The much-heralded solution? Cloud aggregation or synching solutions. Some of these were developed by startups; others by established companies.
What happened to these cloud photo services?
Call it a serious case of consolidation, as is clear by the current status of the companies that we covered in the original report:
- Adobe Revel: Discontinued. (It’s a different type of solution, but Adobe nowadays offers CreativeSync for its Creative Suite products, so that customers can sync their work and continue to work on it on different devices)
- Apple iCloud Photo Stream: After several false starts, Apple now offers iCloud Photo Library for its various devices and seems to be successful with that.
- Cooliris: Discontinued after being acquired by Yahoo!
- Dropbox Carousel: Discontinued (Dropbox does offer cloud syncing/storage for any file format, i.e. also for photos, but it no longer offers a separate service with photo-specific features)
- Everpix: Discontinued
- Found: Discontinued
- Google+: Its photo features morphed into Google Photos
- Microsoft SkyDrive: Renamed as Microsoft OneDrive
- MyShoebox: Discontinued (renamed to Shoebox)
- NeroKwik: Discontinued
- Photobucket: After several iterations and subsequent business models, Photobucket is now a paid photo storage service
- Picturelife: Discontinued. The team was Acqui-hired by Amazon for its Amazon Photos team
- Pixable: Discontinued
- Smile by Webshots: Discontinued; Webshots still exists
- SugarSync: Discontinued
- Swirl: Discontinued
- ThisLife: acquired by Shutterfly, now incorporated in Shutterfly Photos
- Woven: Discontinued
In sum, 4 of the original 18 solutions still exist (solutions from Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Photobucket) – 14 have been discontinued.
Note that of the original solutions tackling the dispersed photo problem, it was not only startups who ultimately failed; there were also several high profile large companies who turned their backs away from addressing the “photos anywhere” use case (Adobe, Dropbox, Yahoo!).
Seven months after the initial report we came out with an update, which added four new entrants. Of this second wave, all solutions are still in business and address specific use cases (Amazon Cloud Drive, Canon Irista, Kwilt, and Mylio). (Germany-based Loom was not included in the original report; it was acquired by Dropbox in 2014).
Why did so many fail?
In short, photo cloud storage has become a commodity for which it has proven to be hard to charge money. If a customer wants to get a good deal for storing their photos in the cloud, they have plenty of options to get if to free almost free, such as if:
- they need, i.e. already pay for, general cloud storage solutions (such as Dropbox or Apple iCloud).
- they already get unlimited or large quantities of storage for free when purchasing other products or services (Amazon Photos, free for Amazon Prime members; Microsoft OneDrive, free for Office 365 customers; Verizon Cloud, free for purchasers of their Above Unlimited phone service plan).
- they can settle for storing photos up to 16 MB, Google Photos is free up to 15 GB of storage; if they don’t mind to be reminded of the blessings of ordering print products Shutterfly offers unlimited free Photo Storage.
For a while, photo cloud providers’ plan B was to add more than just storage or syncing features by addressing photo-specific use cases. But alas, for big players like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, photos have proven to be strategically important enough to warrant following suit – and often ended up out-innovating the startup incumbents, especially in the area of AI-based image recognition solutions.
So is this market once or for all in the hands of the big guys? Not so fast – photos are a sensitive subject matter. Many of us care deeply about our photos’ security, privacy, longevity, curability, sharability, anytime-anywhere access, printability and a bunch of other qualities: not all of these are – or by the nature of their businesses – can even be addressed by today’s big cloud storage vendors.
So whoever can figure out addressing and optimally balancing these various needs will be the next winner – creative destruction never stops!
Any thoughts? Share your comments!
And a few more things…
Instagram. OMG! Instagram officially tests hiding Like counts. An effort to return to authentic photo sharing?
Shutterstock. Shutterstock Adds View in Room AR Feature to Mobile App. Use the Shutterstock app to view how an image that you’re considering buying will look on your wall. No earthshattering technology (an iOS ARKit implementation), but noteworthy for the scale with which Shutterstock operates: it hosts 250M+ images from 650K+ contributors.
Bumble. Bumble’s ‘private detector’ AI will automatically detect and blur lewd images. Do you expect something dirty in your photo? No problem, the dating/meeting app lets you decide what to do before you view the photo: block it, report it to moderators, or, hmm, view it.
Snapchat. Snapchat is not down and out. Q1 earnings report shows 2% daily active user growth over the previous quarter, but most growth is outside North America and Europe, thanks to its (finally) reengineered Android app. Q1 revenues were $320M, an increase of 39% YoY.
Facebook. Facebook is not down and out – and not only because of Instagram. Its ephemeral Snapchat-style Stories, long considered not being very successful within Facebook, now has 500 million daily users across Facebook and Messenger. And yes, no matter a bunch of scandals, Facebook’s daily active users, revenues, and profits are up, according to its Q1 earnings report.
Zillow. AR for the rest of us: Real estate site Zillow launches AI-powered 3D home tours.
Family Album. Private photo sharing site, Family Album wins 2019 National Parenting Product Award (NAPPA). Japan-based Family Album has over 4.5M users worldwide.
Abundance photography. How did we get to the era of abundance photography? How has the photo industry changed in the last 200 years? Check out this 6-minute video of yours truly being interviewed by Allen Saakyan of Simulation.
Visual 1st: October 3-4, 2019; San Francisco
Check out Past Visual 1st presenters that have been acquired.
Check out initial program & presenters.
Author: Hans Hartman
Hans Hartman is president of Suite 48 Analytics, the leading research and analysis firm for the mobile photography market and organizer of Mobile Visual 1st, a yearly industry conference about mobile photography.