With the rise of smartphones, a photograph’s value has changed. While some high-quality photos will always be viewed as art, the everyday photos we take of ourselves, our friends and family, and the world around us are viewed differently. Some are so meaningless, we’ve made them disposable – as with apps like Snapchat. Others we want to remember for longer, so we slow down to crop and filter them before sharing – as with Instagram. But what about the printed photo? Does it still matter?
A new startup called timeshel wants to make sure it does, and has launched an odd, but somewhat interesting service to help with that.
I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t sure about timeshel when I first signed up.
This crowdfunded, New York-based company offers iPhone photo prints by mail, which is nothing new. But instead of delivering them in a simple envelope, timeshel’s big differentiating factor is that they arrive in a white plastic box called the “shel.”
The box serves a number of purposes beyond just be the packaging for the prints, which come in both rectangle and square sizes as need be. You can use it like a picture frame, displaying one of your photos by propping it up in the slit in the top. And the boxes stack together, like a mini file cabinet of sorts where you can slide out the trays to retrieve your prints at any time.
Something that struck me about the boxes, after they arrived, is how much I liked the simplicity – and the space-saving – provided by this system. The boxes fit nicely on a bookshelf, taking up minimal room compared with a more traditional photo album. And if you happen to give away all the prints in one of your boxes, I could easily see them re-purposed for other uses – like storing pins or paperclips, or turning them into kids’ art projects. You can also recycle them, if you decide to consolidate your stacks.
According to timeshel co-founder Phil Anema, who started the company with Sean Pfitzenmaier, the initial concept for timeshel was born out of Anema’s own experience as a professional photographer.
“Last year, while on the job I witnessed a mother’s friend taking an iPhone portrait of the mother’s child. When finished, they ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the photo while starting at the iPhone screen and it struck me that they will never print that photo, and that’s just kind of sad,” he says. “I began ruminating how excellent mobile photography is becoming…and came to the conclusion that the point and shoot camera as we used to know it is dead.”
And yet, he continues, both personally and culturally we sense a lot of digital fatigue and a desire “to return to physical, tangible experiences.”
“I knew that when I’m 65 years old with grandkids someday, I don’t want to pass down a device full of digital photos, I want to pass down a lifetime of prints,” Anema says.
So the idea for the timeshel was born. The plastic box itself stores, organizes and protects your prints, while the accompanying mobile application turns the concept into a subscription-based business.
With timeshel, the idea is not to occasionally order prints as with competitors like Shutterfly, SimplePrints, HelloPics, Printic, or the numerous photo book makers out there. Instead, each month you quickly select up to 30 photos from your iPhone’s Camera Roll, and these are then automatically shipped out to you.
The app is super-easy to use, and the thumbnails are big enough that you can really see what you’re choosing which is a minor, but often overlooked feature in some other photo print apps.
Originally, prints were $9.99 per month when the company soft-launched in April. But with the costs of the box, they’ve raised this to $14.95. (A lower price point for just ordering prints will soon be available, which could allow you to save money as you could toggle back and forth in between tiers, while consolidating prints into fewer “shels.”)
However, the pricing makes timeshel more a “nice to have” service than a must-have, especially when a good chunk of its target market are young parents who are already adjusting to a life of increased expenses. That could limit the company’s growth, so the team for now is keeping things very lean while they figure things out.
Timeshel ran a compressed Kickstarter campaign to raise $50,000+, but other than that (and some friends and family money), the team is basically bootstrapping.
You can download timeshel here on iTunes.