Although Android adoption is growing at a huge clip compared to the iPhone (not hard, since there are so many more devices and plans), iPhone apps still remain the benchmark for the smartphone app experience. In part this is down to the fact that many companies build an iPhone app first and an Android version some time later, which is often inferior in user experience. Part of the reason is that little things like the pull-down-to-refresh features that are often in Phone apps come default with the iOS platform. But to make that kind of feature work in an Android app you have to build it from the ground up.
That means there is a space for a creator of ridiculously good Android apps. Step forward Thai Tran and Nilesh Patel with Lightbox, their new startup which has taken a $1.1 million seed round from some of the top VCs and Angels in the UK and US. A private beta of their first app, Lightbox Photos, launches this week at SXSW, with the founders in attendance handing out invitation codes to the private beta. The app will be presented at the Team Android Choice Awards. You can sign up here to get on the invite list for the app here.
Lightbox Photos, connect the Android camera with social networks – something existing apps haven’t achieved to the same extent. I’ve seen a demo of the app and it works very well. Instead of requiring a constant network connection to show photos backed up onto the Lightbox servers, the app will run in background to sync your photos so you can can use Lightbox Photos while offine, thus making experience identical to local browsing.
Patel and Tran raised the money in order to build a team in London, and the ambition is high. “We want to build the most badass mobile team in the world and we want to do it in London,” Tran told me. “All the investors are Silicon Valley investors. So everyone is willing to take the bet that this team can do it all from London and rival the best teams anywhere.”
Previously, Tran was product manager at YouTube where he was responsible for partnerships with European TV broadcasters. Prior to that, he was Product Manager for Google Maps. This guy knows how Google thinks.
The round was from Index Ventures (Neil Rimer, Danny Rimer), Accel Partners (Andrew Braccia), SV Angel (David Lee), 500 Startups (Dave McClure) and angel investors Beth Ellyn McClendon (formerly UX Designer/Product Manager for Google Maps, YouTube, Android, and Google.org), Brian McClendon (VP Engineering at Google), Charlie Oppenheimer (EIR at Matrix), Michael Herf (formerly CTO of Picasa), Pasha Sadri (founder and CEO of Polyvore), Shishir Mehrotra (head of Monetization at YouTube).