Toronto-based SPOKEnPHOTO launched with a simple concept in mind: to help families and loved ones separated by geography stay connected via not only shared images, but also voice recordings attached to those pictures to help better tell a story. The startup launched an iPhone app in June, but co-founder Lynne McEachern told me the iPad app, which launches today, was always in the cards, but the company wanted to get the basic product and backend right before jumping to the bigger screen.
SPOKEnPHOTO Album is like the iPhone version in every way, in terms of what you can do with it. You can snap photos or take them from your library, and share them with friends and family. Sharing happens asynchronously, so that family members don’t have to be up and awake at the same time to connect, and sharing is designed to be limited only to those you actually care about, rather than being more open by default, like other photo sharing services including Instagram.
“Our original idea really wrapped around the iPad app, because we [McEachern and her husband] were having problems connecting with our long distance friends and family a couple of years ago when we had our twin boys,” she said. “We basically didn’t answer the phone for a whole year, and we were missing everyone’s voice. We were in contact through Facebook and email and everything, but it really wasn’t the same.”
The iPhone app is still a useful component of the overall product, since it means that users can snap photos and record messages wherever they are, especially on the go when they might not have their iPad with them. But the iPad is clearly designed to be more about collecting, organizing and browsing through memories stored with the service. It features a bookshelf layout not unlike that found in Apple’s iBooks, where albums are stored. Users can organize their photos into custom albums, which use a drag-and-drop interface to help users quickly and easily create personalized layouts that look good even if the individual making them isn’t particularly creative.
You can add voice to images within the app, just like in the iPhone, as well as view all your pictures in an automatically generated gallery view. Albums can be shared via email, Facebook and Twitter, and receiving parties don’t need to have the app installed, thanks to a web-based interface that lets them browse through photos and attached recorded messages.
McEachern says that while the iPhone app has garnered only just under 5,000 downloads so far, she thinks the iPad app does a better job of getting the core concept across, and also helps the product stand out considerably from other image/voice combo mobile apps out there like Fotobabble (which now aims more at corporate customers). Both apps are and will remain free, with revenue possibilities coming through premium added services to be introduced later on, including physical printed albums of photos stored on the service that include hooks (like scannable codes) to bring up recorded voice messages attached to pictures.
SPOKEnPHOTO is self-funded for now, and McEachern says the company hopes to remain that way until it can implement its revenue plans and reach the break-even point. Early traction with the iPhone app hasn’t been amazing, but the iPad app is very well put together, and even leaving aside the added feature of voice recording, presents a more attractive and better executed photo album app than most other competitive offerings out there. Time will tell if making the leap to the tablet is the jumpstart needed to help SPOKEnPHOTO reach critical mass.