Gorgeous Photos, Now In Your Pocket: 500px Arrives On iPhone

Hot on the heels of acquiring the makers of a popular iPhone app for browsing the photos on its service, the Toronto-based photo-sharing startup 500px is debuting an iPhone application of its own today. The move comes just over a year after the company launched its first iOS application, 500px for iPad, which is also seeing a minor update today, as the two apps are now launching as a universal binary for iPhone and iPad.

Like the iPad app before it, the new iPhone app shares the same black-and-white user interface, which makes photos really pop. However, it also introduces its own unique navigation instead of relying on the now common single-screen interface with navigation tucked off to the left side (similar to the Facebook or Google+ app, for example). The company, apparently staffed by perfectionists, actually tried that style of navigation in an earlier iteration, and decided it didn’t work. “The interactions were familiar to the user,” says 500px CEO Oleg Gutsol, “but we were not pleased with how it turned out.”

Instead, the new iPhone app offers tappable menus at the top which are less obviously navigational elements, but also have the benefit of fading away into the app’s interface. Tapping the “500” logo gives you access to Notifications, Settings and help. The picture icon lets you move between the home screen of the app to your profile and others’ photos on the service, and the text to the right of that picture icon lets you filter those photos even further.

For example, while browsing site-wide photos, you can choose to view Popular photos, Editor’s Choice, Upcoming, Fresh, or perform a search. In your profile, meanwhile, you can toggle between your Following (i.e. your 500px friends), your Favorites and a newer section called your “Flow.” This is something like a friend-of-friend view into the photos shared on your network, as it presents a feed of those photos your friends on 500px are commenting on and favoriting. It’s also a great way to find new photographers to follow.

Another way to find people to follow is from the “Find Your Friends” feature under the profile, which allows you to connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts in order to discover who you know on 500px. Here, the app also recommends top photographers on the service, which is helpful for new users. Gutsol explains that this list isn’t an editorial selection, but is rather built programmatically.

“We have an algorithm that determines the best photography, and also the interesting people and interesting photographers,” he says. The algorithm was built in part using technology from an earlier 500px acquisition, Algo Anywhere, and recommends people based on the recency and quality of their photos. But, notes Gutsol, the company has a long history of understanding photo quality, having grown its service from LiveJournal community some eight years prior, where moderators painstakingly reviewed each photo. The algorithm that now does the same is part of 500px’s “secret sauce,”  he says.

One notably missing feature from the iPhone app at launch is the ability to actually upload photos, but the company says that the feature will be out in a later release. Again, it was a situation where the team wasn’t happy with the user interface yet, so they decided to wait. We asked if the reason it was a lower priority was because of how many professional photographers use 500px – that is, people whose photo collections are shot with slightly better cameras than those found on smartphones. But Gutsol says that’s not the case at all, estimating that only 5%-10% of the site’s users are professionals. The majority of 500px’s users are just interested in photography and want to take better photos. They’re attracted to the quality of the experience, he adds.

The iPad app has been a success for the company, with over 50% of the 1.5 million registered users also on iPad, with 93% return users and session times at 40+ minutes. On Android, numbers are lower as the Android app is not tablet-only. Gutsol thinks the iPhone app usage will be similar to Android smartphone app usage: around 5 minutes per day.

In addition to future updates to the iPhone app to bring the much-needed upload feature among other things, 500px is also planning to launch a community site that’s a combination of groups and forums, as well as expand its own team. Now growing at 100,000 users per month, the company will double its headcount from 31 over the next 6 to 12 months, find larger office space, and raise a Series A.

The updated iOS app will be available for download here in the App Store.