When it comes to image sharing apps, Instagram reigns supreme for photos, Vine and Instagram lead the pack in short videos, and Twitch is quickly becoming the darling of live streaming video. But thus far, no mobile service has risen to the top for GIFs — those animated, short image files that everyone (save for my boss Dylan Tweney) is in love with.
The unfortunately named mobile GIF creation app Phhhoto (not a typo) has a pretty decent shot at leading the pack in this category — having already been proven popular with pop music stars like Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, and Joe Jonas as well as top tech entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, Kevin Rose, Jack Dorsey, Dave Morin, and Gary Vaynerchuk. But that’s not the only reason Phhhoto is on its way up.
The service bills itself as a “moving picture” mobile camera app for iOS. It captures a series of images using a very slow shutter speed (number of frames per second), which are then displayed one after another to grab a GIF-like image effect without submitting fully to becoming an animated GIF. Like other popular photo sharing services, Phhhoto also allows you to apply photo filters for an artistic or wacky look. All the moving photos you take pop up on your personal Phhhoto activity feed, as well as the feed of any other users that happen to be following you. Phhhoto also has a pretty liberal policy on sharing outside of its own service, allowing you to download a moving picture as a video file to be shared on Instagram, Vine, or elsewhere. Its founders say sharing is a core part of its overall business plan.
Despite that lax sharing policy, Phhhoto has seen nearly 3 million movable photos uploaded since launching in July. Its users are spending 7 minutes 11 seconds per session (and 25 percent of users spend upwards of an hour per week on Phhhoto). The founders declined to share total number of active monthly viewers, but did tell me Phhhoto is seeing a steady number of new users signing up every month since launching out of beta back in July from HyperHyper, a development firm known for relaunching Playboy’s website, among others.
“What we’ve been the most surprised about is in how long people are spending before posting something,” Phhhoto cofounder Omar Elsayed told VentureBeat. “There’s only so many frames to capture, so you never really know what you’re going to get,” adding that it’s different from snapping a photo or recording a video.
Having played with the app, I can understand what he’s talking about. I attempted to capture my dog Noodles giving me an irritated look as I pointed my phone towards her face. Even with her cooperating, it took me about 5 minutes before capturing the exact moving photo image I wanted.
He noted that the camera app’s image capture functionality breeds two types of things that contribute to the high amount of time per sessions. The first is that people are unsure of what they’ll capture so it produces unexpected results, leading people to take more moving pictures. The other explanation is that users have a very specific image in mind and spend a while trying to capture it perfectly. Either way, the experience reminds me a lot of the way people would (and probably still do) spend 15 minutes on Twitter trying to craft a 140-character message without omitting details.
Oddly enough, none of the three founders I spoke with sees Phhhoto as a GIF creation tool, choosing instead to label it as a “moving pictures” app. I see where they’re coming from, and I’m honestly not sure it matters since people are obviously really into the app. It might even benefit them, since it makes Phhhoto stand apart from other notable GIF mobile apps, such as Relay, which was just acquired by hot chat service startup Kik as part of its $38 million raise.
“Honestly, we’re interested in making images people want to look at, and making things that no one has been able to make easily before,” Elsayed said. “When we started it had nothing to do with GIFs or the format itself. It was about creating an experience for viewing and creating something in between video and photos that was optimized for mobile devices.”
Another thing that makes Phhhoto stand apart from the countless other photo apps? The service is currently operating on an undisclosed seed round (which included popular DJ Diplo) and turning a profit, according to its founders. Its business model isn’t tied to people only spending time on the service itself — the company has several sponsorship deals with advertisers to feature logos and branding on custom photo filters, which are tastefully displayed no matter where someone shares a photo. I’d imagine those brands are already tracking activity across other social networks, relieving Phhhoto of some of the burden of proving its worth to advertisers, too. Along with revenue generated through a paid version of the app’s technology for public events (via a Photo Booth), the team told me it’s seeing month-over-month revenue growth of 22 percent.
Founded in 2014, the New York-based Phhhoto team said it’s planning to launch an Android version of the service in the near future.