by Hans Hartman
Market Researcher focused on the Mobile Photo and Video Market
My first thought when I heard about Canon’s acquisition of Kite was: “Great for Charlie, Fionn, Deon, and the rest of the crew – they really deserve it; they’ve been kicking butt!”
Founded in late 2013, the London-based startup gained an impressive list of 500+ app and web partners who have implemented Kite’s print API, in effect becoming – as they call it – The Internet’s Print Button. Customers include Pic Collage, Photobox, Polaroid, Lenovo, Lightricks, and RealTimes. Note that these partnerships were created and are supported by a lean team of still only 11 employees.
At Mobile Photo Connect 1.5 years ago, Kite CEO Charlie Carpenter got people’s attention when he described his and his co-founders’ backgrounds: they came from the London agency world and had extensive knowledge of m-commerce and sales funnel analysis – not the typical skills you see at other photo print enablement vendors. Apparently, their approach, coupled with super simple API integration, resonated with a large group of app and web developers who are keen to monetize their customers’ photo engagement by offering photo output product options.
Left to right: Deon Botha (Kite), Fionn Concannon (Kite), Alberto Spinelli (Canon), Charlie Carpenter (Kite)
My immediate second thought: “That’s unusual: a Japanese technology company is acquiring a European app developer rather than trying to develop something along these lines in-house!” In fact, it’s already Canon’s second photo app developer acquisition, the first one being the innovative family photosharing app, Lifecake, which Canon acquired in April of 2015.
In both cases, it was Canon-Europe who did the acquisition, according to Alberto Spinelli, Senior Director of Digital Services at Canon Europe, with full support of its Japanese headquarters. Spinelli mentioned to me that the main impetus for acquiring Kite was to fill a void in Canon’s digital cloud services. He believes cloud services are vital to bridge Canon’s capture (i.e. camera) solutions with those addressing home and commercial printing.
Lifecake was the first solution acquired for this middle cloud services layer, addressing families’ photo organizing, discovery and sharing needs. Kite now fills the second void: easy creation of photo output products in apps and on websites where customers choose to engage with their photos. Not incidentally, Kite was already Lifecake’s “print button” prior to the acquisition.
Canon’s emphasis on building end-to-end photo solutions stems from a recent shift in the company’s mission: To cater more towards solutions centered around consumer behaviors and needs rather than developing products and technologies by themselves, according to Spinelli. Kite’s acquisition is the direct result of Canon’s ambition to play a part in every image taken and to make image printing accessible from any device. With Kite, Cannon acquired an Internet Print Button that is already implemented by a sizable segment of the photo ecosystem.
But I had one more thought: “What if Kite will become a proprietary solution limited to Canon printing presses?” Kite’s co-founders Charlie Carpenter and Fionn Concannon, as well Canon’s Alberto Spinelli assured me this won’t be the case. Not only is the plan to keep Kite as an independent entity, but Spinelli also says, “With Kite we want to offer a broad range of photo-merchandise options for the users and as such will continue to support a variety of output equipment options for Kite’s output service provider partners, but also expanding the network of Canon digital printing presses where available.”
I know: acquiring companies always say that nothing will change at the acquired startup – until they do change. But in Canon’s case, they’ve walked the walk and done a great job in the last two years of keeping Lifecake independent, and continuing to improve Lifecake after the acquisition, while leveraging Canon’s distribution means to make the app available to a broader audience. All of this makes me hopeful that Kite will continue to thrive as part of Canon and leverage the extra resources now at the team’s disposal.
We’ll keep following the Kite-Canon combo closely!
A few more things…
Photo AI-based announcements galore this week:
Microsoft. Microsoft launched Sprinkles, an app powered by AI that applies photo decorating tools such as stickers, emoji and auto-created caption texts after detecting faces and determining the photo subject’s age, emotion, and any celebrity resemblance.
Vicman. 2016 Mobile Photo Connect presenter Vicman, launched Emolfi, an app that also uses AI to identify the mood of the person portrayed in a headshot before creating rich collages that visually express this person’s “emotion of the moment,” such as anger, surprise or happiness. Emolfi then applies Vicman’s signature image processing creative effects, many of which are also available in Vicman’s Photo Lab app (100M+ downloads to date).
Sharalike. Another former Mobile Photo Connect presenter, Sharalike, beta-launched v360, an app to edit 360 videos on your phone, with features such as trimming, clip sorting, and adding music to the 360 footage.
UC Berkeley. UC Berkeley researchers developed a reverse image style transfer algorithm. Instead of transferring Monet’s impressionist style into a painterly version of your photo, their AI can create a realistic photo rendering that gives you a good idea of the scene that the French painter was looking at when he put down his easel and started to paint.
Adobe. Adobe Research released a new AI-based selfie enhancement technology that can be used to adjust the position of the subject’s head within the image, adjust the depth of field using automatic portrait masking, and apply styles found in other portraits.
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Hans Hartman, president of Suite 48 Analytics