At this point in the highly competitive mobile market, it's difficult to introduce a new app or product that is entirely unique. This was made clear during the mobile session at the DEMO Fall 2013 conference.
The first company to demonstrate was called shoto, and it featured an app described quite similarly to many that are already available "an easy way to share your life with people who matter." As expected, Facebook was listed among its competitors.
Given some time to explain, though, the demonstrators described a unique photo-sharing app that incorporated geo-fencing technology and automated sharing among the app's users' contacts located in the same area. Rather than manually uploading photos to a social network and sharing with hundreds of people who probably don't care to look at them, shoto aims to automatically connect images taken among friends who are at the same event. Users only have to take the photos, and shoto does the sharing for them.
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Manual features are also available, such as the ability to send a photo album directly to specific contacts who may not be at an event. Privacy options are available as well, for those who may be taking photos they don't want automatically shared.
This issue was brought up by the DEMO panelists, who inquired about the potential real-life consequences of sharing photos with unintended recipients. The shoto demonstrators acknowledged that these mistakes may happen, conceding that "the technology is not flawless," and built in an alert system to let users know when photos are shared. The company also removes images from the app upon request. However, neither of those solutions accounts for people who may have seen images before they're removed.
Another challenge addressed in the panel discussion was the lack of user interaction with the app. Although shoto's advantage is its automation and the elimination of bulky uploading processes, the company runs the risk of alienating its technology from its users.
Facebook and Instagram grew so fast because people spent so much time using them, for example. While users may see the benefit of shoto, they may not interact with the technology directly as others do with its competitors. Whether that's a big enough issue to limit its reach in the market remains to be seen.
Magisto gave an impressive demonstration, showing its automated, artificial intelligence-based editing app for photos and videos taken with mobile devices.
Once users have taken a series of photos or video clips, they select an "editing style" on Magisto, and choose specific songs that fall under that style. Magisto then automatically edits the series of photos and videos into a short video, cutting out unnecessary video content or low-quality images, inserting transitions between photo montages or video clips, and incorporating the previously chosen soundtrack. The finished product is a visually appealing, fully edited short movie.
Similarly to shoto, Magisto is aiming at users who want to share their content only with specific friends and family. Magisto defaults to private, so no one can see the edited video other than the user who made it, and allows users to choose who they want to send it to. However, a separate option called Open Albums shares the finished product with the public.
One challenge raised by the panelists was the available audience. Vine, for example, made a lot of noise when it first came out with its simplified, yet manual, video editing service. However, Instagram video has stolen some of its thunder since then, allowing users to create videos similarly to those on Vine and share them with their establish base of friends and followers who are already using Instagram. It is difficult to gain users that quickly, though Magisto's focus on users' personal friends and connections may help it avoid competing with the large social networks.
SnoopWall enters the crowded market for mobile security, although it did differentiate itself with a focus on privacy. In the demonstration, the company shone a light on the creepy underbelly of mobile apps access to tools they don't necessarily need, such as GPS, webcams or microphones.
SnoopWall shows which apps have access to which portals. The on-stage demonstration itself showed a flashlight app that had access to the phone's GPS and Wi-Fi features, then offered the user a simple switch to shut the portals down. The product also offers alternative settings for the entire phone, such as an Internet-only mode to prevent apps from running in the background or an app-only mode that could prevent children from browsing the web outside of the phone's apps.
With mainstream news outlets covering cyberspying issues with webcams and tracking capabilities with GPS, the timing may be perfect for SnoopWall. The only real challenge is educating the less technologically savvy of users on the threats that their apps present.
Colin Neagle covers emerging technologies and the startup scene for Network World. Follow him on Twitter @ntwrkwrldneagle and keep up with the Microsoft, Cisco and Open Source community blogs. Colin's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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