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At a time when 4K televisions and ultra high definition screens are all the rage, a new video chat app is going lo-fi.
Pop, launching on iOS today, features compressed video messaging with colored filters so vibrant, they would make Andy Warhol proud. The effect is a video messaging system that looks like pop art, all in an effort to make taking video of yourself less intimidating.
“No one uses video chat,” said Pop founder Joshua Nguyen. The father of Pop has been working with photo and video tools for years, first as a senior product manager at Flickr and then as head of product for Tumblr. He also helped Tumblr plot its international expansion.
Nguyen said there isn’t an easy video chat app out there and that’s the void he’s looking to fill. But that’s not entirely true. Skype’s video chat is probably the most widely used video chat app, with roughly 5 million monthly active users. However, the app that comes closest to video chat the way Nguyen envisions it is Snapchat. Nguyen said the ephemerality of Snapchat messages kills the flow of a conversation. Though that may be true, it’s not like anyone is using Snapchat to ask their significant other to pick up cat food on their way home from work. Snapchat has really gained traction as a mode of being silly (or sexy) with your friends.
Nguyen wants his app to serve as a mechanism for conversation, rather than a relay of goofy videos.
He recalled a conversation he had with a good friend of his (the “groomswoman” at his wedding) from college that he hadn’t talked to in a while. They were texting short status updates and the friend, concerned that Nguyen was too busy or stressed to talk, said she was sorry if she was bothering him. Nguyen then took a funny photo of himself and sent it to her. She in turn, sent one back.
“Pictures changed the tone of the conversation,” he said.
In creating his own video messaging platform, he wanted to zero in on making the experience unself-conscious. While he thinks that video could serve as an important means of communication, reintroducing facial reactions and gestures to the staid world of text, he thinks too many already available video apps focus on performance. By making videos 64KB, he thought, he could take the vanity out of video. Heads up — no one looks good at this resolution.
But the low resolution of Pop’s videos helps serve the company’s goals in other ways too: Nguyen wants his app to be able to work anywhere.
“In Europe and South America they have really slow Internet. Generally people are on 3G. If you’ve ever had video conference with anyone [there] it always times out. People don’t need high fidelity. Plus they don’t like to see themselves,” he said.
Today, Nguyen is pushing the app out globally and making it available in three languages, Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish.
For the curious, here’s a video that illustrates the way the app works:
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