Loom, the new cloud storage and syncing service emerging from the ashes of Y Combinator-backed Popset, is today opening its doors and heading into beta. Though the company’s long-term vision for Loom is to offer users and developers a better alternative to Apple’s iCloud, the app that’s launching now on Mac and the iTunes App Store is only the first step. It allows users to sync their photos to Loom’s cloud storage, so they can delete the hundreds or thousands eating up space on their iPhone or iPad’s Camera Roll or computer hard drive.
When Loom first announced its plans in May, co-founder Jan Senderek had explained that the team had realized they were trying to solve the wrong problem with Popset. People weren’t struggling to share photos with groups, they were in search of better tools to organize and manage their photo libraries. Chief among users’ complaints were their sometimes overwrought routines for backing up their phone’s photos: syncing to their computers or external hard drives, syncing through iTunes, and then losing too much room to store photos on their smaller MacBook SSD drives, for example.
With Loom, the idea is users can sync their photos to the cloud and then access them on any device – that’s also what iCloud promises, of course. But Senderek claims that consumers still find iCloud confusing, especially because Photostream appears like another album in the Apple Photos app.
The Loom iOS app is more straightforward in its design than Apple’s Photos. After signing up for Loom, users can start uploading their photos to its cloud, where they receive 5 GB of free storage. Photos can also be quickly organized into albums in Loom — you just title the album then swipe your finger across the photos or videos you want to include.
Meanwhile, on Mac, Loom creates a folder that automatically syncs with your account, like Dropbox does, and it can automatically download the photos, videos and albums you create with your phone or tablet to this folder for easy access. You can also check off your “Photos” folder and others, in order to have those files added to Loom, as well.
Saving Storage Space
Though not visible to end users, Loom’s space-saving technology is what makes the app interesting.
“We take every photo in its original size, upload it to the server, and as soon as it’s uploaded, we create multiple versions that are smaller than the original that we store alongside the original,” explains Senderek. “That makes the experience of loading photos on multiple devices much faster, and we can also store 200 times more photos on a mobile device than before.”
Users can’t tell the difference between the smaller versions of the files when viewing the photos on their iPhones. The resolution on iPhone 5 photos is 11 times larger than the screen of the iPhone 5, notes Senderek. Once the photos are in the cloud, you can then go into your iPhone Camera Roll and delete photos to free up space. (Loom can’t do this for you because of Apple’s restrictions.)
Within Loom, there are also simple tools for sharing photos. Currently, you can email, text or grab a link to the photos you want to share, but sharing to social networks is not available. Senderek claims that omission is by design. “We want to give users a feeling this place is safe…that your photos are yours,” he says.
The company plans to add full support for videos in the future, which will also make use of similar technology to make the file sizes smaller. When videos are played back, the stream will start at low resolution, then switch to medium and high-resolution when it has buffered enough — similar to the experience users have with Netflix, for example.
Though Loom’s technology may be its differentiating factor, consumers will likely view it as an alternative to Dropbox, so it’s worth noting that Loom’s price points are a little lower.
Loom’s business model comes into play after users surpass their initial 5 GB of free storage (which I did on my first upload, as it turns out). A 50 GB plan is $39 per year, while $99 per year will give you 250 GB. Dropbox, meanwhile, offers 2 GB for free (though up to 18 GB is available if you refer friends), and Dropbox Pro is $99 per year for 100 GB, $199.00 for 200 GB, and $499.00 for 500 GB.
But Loom doesn’t just compete with Dropbox, it’s also up against other freemium services like Flickr or 500px, as well as free photo sharing sites like Google+ Photos and Facebook (yes, this is why people don’t quit it, despite their whining). Both of these services also have apps that can automatically upload photos to a private album in the cloud with no user interaction.
Senderek, however, doesn’t believe that social networks are the ideal solution. Every time you upload something you have to go through a decision-making process about what or who you’re going to share with, he says. Plus, those services run on ads, which not everyone cares for. “I don’t think that’s what people really want. They want a simple, straightforward solution that is for one thing only — storing and accessing,” he says.
Loom is launching now, but the beta rollout is taking place over the course of several days. Initially, several thousand users may be allowed in — including those already on the wait list — as the service needs to be careful scaling since every user will be creating gigabytes of data upon first use. The Loom app is available here in the iTunes App Store and here for Mac.