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When co-founder and CEO Soujanya Bhumkar gave me a demo of the app earlier this week, he argued that there’s room for another messaging app, largely because popular messaging tools like the recently acquired WhatsApp are designed more as utilities.
Sure, those apps are fine for communicating with your friends and family, but in Bhumkar’s view, they don’t provide great experiences. By way of analogy, he said that BeamIt offers an improved experience in the same way that Flipboard improved on RSS readers. (Flipboard, like Cooliris, is backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — though in its various permutations, Cooliris has actually been around longer.)
On a basic level, using BeamIt will seem similar to other apps. You can create groups, then share messages and photos within those groups. However, Bhumkar pointed out several features and little touches that could make it stand out.
For one thing, photos are shared at full resolution rather than the shrunk-down version that you usually see elsewhere. Bhumkar said that while other apps have treated “beauty and speed as a zero sum game,”,BeamIt can offer both, thanks to dataflow and data binding technology, allowing for “prioritization of data and pixels” as well as “pushing the relevant data on demand.”
The app also makes it easy to share and browse large groups of photos, to comment on individual pieces of content (instead of having to say, “Hey, I really liked that photo of the thing you shared two days ago”), and to share those individual pieces with other groups. Via email and mobile web, you can also share with people who aren’t BeamIt users.
Cooliris has also created a full offline experience. While offline, not only can you browse the photos and messages that have been downloaded to your device, but you can also upload and comment on photos, and the app will automatically sync once it’s online again. Bhumkar said that can be particularly important in markets like China and India where the company says it has seen significant growth, and where users are more sensitive to data costs.
Bhumkar added the company decided to pursue messaging after seeing the popularity of the similar features in its existing app. Ultimately, he said it made more sense to build an app that really focused on messaging, rather than trying to add more and more of this functionality in an app that was really built for media browsing. Existing Cooliris groups and conversations, meanwhile, will be automatically migrated to BeamIt.
BeamIt is launching on iOS today, with plans for web and Android versions to follow. The app is free, with Cooliris planning to offer a premium subscription for additional features later on.