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After lukewarm market adoption in the past, innovative digital photo frames vendors explore new approaches

[Scroll down for “And a few more things” with other imaging industry news]

Digital frames have been around for a while. We got tired of the first generation in the early 1990s, and the second generation of internet-connected frames in in the early 2000s wasn’t compelling enough either for most of us to keep using them. Why have yet another device to clutter our shelves or counters if we could already easily view our photos on our phone, computer, iPad – or connect any of those to our TV to view them on a large screen?

But more recently a third generation of digital frames have come to market that offer a variety of innovations that target specific rather than general consumer use cases. While there is no guarantee this new generation will succeed this time, their innovative approaches show more promise than the devices we’ve seen in the past.

Why might this third generation have a chance to succeed? Before we go into the specific innovations being pursued, I’d like to point out that there are also more general reasons why digital frames might have a chance to succeed this time around:

  • First, the web-based albums or galleries provided by social media and photo cloud storage vendors, long thought of as safe and private solutions for aggregating one’s photos and accessing them from any web-connected device, have lost considerable appeal to those consumers who are concerned about security and privacy. Much-publicized data leaks and a growing awareness of the possible privacy implications of face and image recognition technologies when applied to cloud-stored photos, haven’t helped either. Many consumers are looking for more private photo sharing alternatives.
  • At the same time, consumers are starting to re-appreciate the benefits of digital devices, such as Alexa and Google Homeplaced inside one’s home that make it just a tad easier to do more or less the same tasks that their smartphones can already do. Having a convenient dedicated anytime-photo viewing device in one’s home has become more imaginable than it was before the Alexa and Google Home era.

While important, neither reason, in my mind, is sufficiently compelling to trigger a comeback of digital photo frames. But there is more. Unlike previous generations, today’s photo frames cater to a variety of very specific use cases and user types. Call it the long tail of photo frame benefits.

Here are four examples:

LoopLoop is a family visual communication device that rides the waves of today’s fascination with anything retro (think vinyl records or Polaroid/Instax print cameras). The device resembles a radio by featuring two knobs as the main interface. It is promoted through multiple unit pack pricing, so that consumers would not only buy a unit for themselves, but also give one to other family members (such as parents or grandparents). This way, Loop owners can remotely share their photos or videos with each other or communicate through Skype-like video calls.

  • Retro device with unique radio-like interface 
  • Channels for remote content streams 
  • Video calls, leveraging the device’s microphone and camera

Collaborating Loop owners can create their own group channels, which are akin to shared albums. These channels may also include content sources besides private photos and videos, such as YouTube Channels or other streaming content. Users can set up and populate these channels through Loop’s iPhone app.

Joy. While Loop has minimized its interface to two knobs, Joy’s digital frame offers a touch interface for its digital frame, which is in essence a large tablet with a stand (which doubles as a wireless charger).

Joy’s focus is to empower its users to view curated photo collections, whether the user owns a Joy device or not (the Joy albums could also be forwarded by email for viewing on a smartphone or computer).

  • Tablet doubles as a photo frame 
  • Viewing slideshows + manual browsing may occur on Joy or other devices 
  • Touch interface

Joy device owners can view slideshows as a typical photo frame placed on a shelf or counter, or pick it up and use it as a tablet while comfortably seated next to their loved ones on the couch. The latter viewing experience is more like browsing a printed photobook (the Joy tablet actually has a center ridge on the back, akin to a book spine).

Why not just using your iPad or Android tablet to view your photos this way? Founder Alan Chan stresses that a single-purpose viewing device doesn’t trigger the usual email or notification distractions we might witness when viewing photos on our phone or tablet. In addition, Joy’s 13.3″ full HD display offers a much more immersive experience than feasible on phones or most tablets. Finally, the Joy frame doesn’t contain one’s private info, so that users feel more comfortable passing their device on to others to view their albums.

Skylight FrameSkylight Frame is a touch-screen photo frame like Joy and is in some ways also reminiscent of Loop’s retro approach by offering a minimalistic interface for remotely adding photos to the device simply through email. Think of it as children or grandchildren adding photos, videos, or email messages to Grandma’s Skylight Frame. Grandma can then swipe, delete, pause, and click on the thank you button. That’s all there is to it.

  • Single focus on simplicity 
  • Remote upload through email

Skylight Frames could also be used in other settings. For example, wedding guests might give the bride and groom a Skylight Frame as present and ask the wedding guests to email to the device any photos they took during the wedding, thus automatically creating a crowd-sourced photo album on the couple’s Skylight Frame without the ad hoc collaborators needing to install an app or learn how to upload the photos.

Nixplay. While Loop, Joy and Skylight are relatively early stage startups, Nixplay has been selling digital frames for 10 years. The company has sold 1.5M devices to date and still sells a range of non-WiFi 1.0 frames in addition to its lineup of internet-connected frames. Users can remotely load photos and videos onto the frames through a smartphone app or, like Skylight Frame, by emailing them to the device.

Nixplay’s smartphone app engages with the Nixplay Cloud, Nixplay’s photo/video storage environment that can be dynamically linked to one’s photo collections on Google PhotosDropbox and various social media networks.

Users can control the display through their smartphone app, a remote control and, recently added, an Alexa smart speaker by using voice commands.

  • Many models, many features 
  • Dynamic connection with Google Photos and other cloud services 
  • Alexa integration to enable voice commands 
  • New video-focused frame with robust audio speakers

Nixplay’s latest frame, the Nixplay Seedwave, announced last week, specifically also caters to video playback by providing robust audio through two 5-watt speakers with dedicated bass and audio amplifier. The Bluetooth-enabled speakers can also be used for any audio playback from one’s phone or other devices.

Will the third generation of digital frames have a chance this time around? Frankly, I don’t know, as the devil is very much in the details. As mentioned earlier, if these details are indeed in place and successfully cater to very specific use cases and user types, digital frames 3.0 do have a chance to succeed. Consumers have come to appreciate the convenience of always-on devices in their homes that make their lives easier and more enjoyable. They are also increasingly wary of cloud storage or social media vendors being the guardian of their precious photos and videos. Still, many alternative viewing devices exist and the proliferation of screen-enabled smart home devices is just around the corner (even though some are already dead on arrival). We’ll keep you posted!

And a few more things

Lightricks. Lightricks co-founder Itai Tsiddon explained in a fireside chat session at last year’s Visual 1st conference why moving their best-selling Facetune and Enlight apps to a subscription model was going to be a smart move. Well, apparently smart it was. Lightricks today announced that it has secured $60 million in a funding round led by Insight Venture Partners with participation from Claltech, bringing its total raise to date to $70 million. It said that its apps have racked up more than 100 million downloads and that the most recent addition to its lineup – Enlight Pixaloop, which launched in September – attracted 6 million users and 200,000 subscribers in just two months.

PryntSkyview Capital acquires AR-enabled instant print vendor, Prynt, apparently as a purchase of some of Prynt’s assets. I always liked Prynt’s innovative approach to add AR sizzle to instant printing and hope its products will continue to evolve under new ownership.

KwiltVisual 1st sponsor Kwilt announces Kwilt2 and Kwilt3, two platform-agnostic devices that turn any USB memory key or external drive into a private cloud at home through which consumers can offload photos and videos from their smartphones, cameras and other devices and access their content anytime, anywhere. Kwilt2 and Kwilt3 are faster and have a sleeker design than the original Shoebox Mini and Shoebox Plus.

Printbox. B2B photo product software provider Printbox announces a partnership with print on demand technology provider Peecho, through which Printbox customers can tap into Peecho’s print fulfillment capabilities of over 30 premier printing facilities, located across North America, Europe, and Australasia.

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Hans Hartman


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