Cloud Photos Aims to Be a Private Instagram

Instagram is one of the most popular iOS photo-sharing apps, with 27 million users and an Android app on the way soon. While users have flocked to the app to share photos with their friends and sync to social networks like Twitter, there’s no option to keep Instagram photos private without a protected account. For users who want a photo-sharing app that, like Instagram, doesn’t require users to store photos on their device, but also keeps them private, there aren’t many options. New app Cloud Photos, from recently founded startup Syrp, aims to help resolve that issue, and on a larger scale give users a way to automatically store their photos in the cloud.

Cloud Photos is a simple app that simply connects a user’s device, its camera and its camera roll to their Dropbox account. With the Dropbox integration, it essentially becomes a shared gallery, or actually as many shared galleries as can be stored on Dropbox, which a user can open up and make public, or share securely with a core group of friends and family. Dropbox is currently working on a desktop/Android solution that allows users to automatically upload photos any time a camera is connected, which should actually help Cloud Photos appeal more to users by shoring up the iOS side of the picture.

Unlike something like Apple’s own iCloud, Cloud Photos isn’t limited to just one Apple ID user, and, as Syrp co-founders and brothers Andrew and Jonathan Norris told BetaKit, it’s also less of a memory hog and much more flexible. Cloud Photos also only carries a one-time charge (though if used it often, it may require upgrading a Dropbox account), unlike subscription services like Adobe Revel. There are also photo-sharing apps like Batch, which lets users share albums with Facebook and with selected friends, but doesn’t have any Dropbox integration.

One of the nicest aspects of Cloud Photos, however, might be its built-in camera interface. It allows users to specify which folder it saves photos to, and can save them directly to any shared Dropbox folder in order to make them instantly available to others, but it isn’t just a simple in-app camera thrown in as an afterthought. It offers some nice additional functionality, including exposure, focus and white balance lock, as well as an advanced grid overlay.

The Norris brothers note that this is just version one of Cloud Photos, which eventually wants to manage a user’s entire photo collection, regardless of where they live. “What we realized is that we don’t really like how most mobile phones, and the iPhone specifically deal with photos,” Andrew Norris told BetaKit in an interview. “It doesn’t give you a lot of control; up until recently, you couldn’t even create a new folder on the iPhone. The other thing is that we realized our photos were taking up so much space on our device, it was becoming restrictive as to what you could even have on your phone.”

Unlike iCloud and other photo-sharing options, Cloud Photos stores only small thumbnails on your device, taking up only a very small amount of memory when compared to full-size cameras taken with the 4S, which can reach up to five MB in size, with full versions available to be downloaded on-demand. That, combined with a user’s ability to selectively pick and choose exactly who they want to share photos with (and, as a result, who they don’t) are features the Norris brothers thinks other users will be very interested in.

Andrew said that Dropbox was the service of choice to go with at first not only because of how easy it was to integrate it, but because of its popularity. “I’m a recent university grad, and nobody’s using Box.net to share files, everyone’s using Dropbox,” he said. “Pretty much every university student knows how to use Dropbox, because its sort of a central part of how they operate now, and in high schools too, it’s gotten very popular, and that’s all because of the private sharing feature.”

Further service additions are planned; the brothers want to incorporate Flickr, Instagram and other services into Cloud Photos in the future, too, so that it becomes a more full-fledged replacement for native device Photos apps that actually includes all photo collections where they live. Platform expansions are also on the horizon. The self-funded team of two has a lot of work ahead, but already has a revenue model already in place (the app is a paid $0.99 download right now in the iTunes Store). The bigger hurdle will be convincing users that they need another photo app – despite the fact that they have a different focus than Instagram, Batch and others, the photo app space is a crowded one.

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