iPhone App Over Applies the Instagram Model to Text On Images

Over, a recently-released iPhone app featured by Apple in the App Store this week, is tackling what seems like a relatively simple challenge: overlaying text on images. It sounds simple, but getting it right (i.e., making sure the final product looks good) is actually quite challenging, even for professionals. And Over’s ability to get it right, even for amateurs who’ve never touched Photoshop let alone had any training in graphic design, makes the app different from a lot of its predecessors and competitors.

Like Instagram before it, Over has managed to take something ordinarily challenging and make it achievable even for casual users, in a minimum of steps. For Instagram, the key to success lay in allowing anyone with a smartphone to create photos that were at least somewhat enjoyable to look at, and that could also easily end up looking very good with the use of filters. With Over, a keen eye for fonts and how typography and photography can work together on the part of the developer more than makes up for the lack of those skills in any individual user.

Over is the brainchild of Aaron Marshall, an entrepreneur who says it actually came out of a relatively scattered approach to coming up with a way to make an impact in tech. Marshall and his team were inspired by a lean startup approach to cast as wide a net as possible in order to potentially hit on something that stuck.

“We went through several iterations of extremely different products, totally on the other end of the spectrum, in software as a service for the enterprise, to goal-sharing,” he explained, describing how they arrived at the concept for Over. “And then from this personal goal-sharing thing we jumped to text over photos, and when we did that we found some traction with just the minimal stuff we were putting out there.”

Early response has been very favorable to Over following its public release, too, though Marshall wasn’t ready to reveal any specific numbers yet. But at least part of the reason Over has managed to catch early traction lies in its design, as well as its specific commitment to quality typography. Unlike most apps in this category, the experience isn’t free-for-all; there are rules and limitations in place, and those actually help to make Over better at what it does, in terms of the final product it produces.

For instance, text can only be set in one of 19 fonts available in the $1.99 app by default; unlocking more will cost user $0.99, but typography aficionados will notice those fonts are pretty much the stock system fonts you’d have on any Mac or PC computer. It’s an intentional move, according to Marshall, designed to reward users for getting out of their comfort zone and using some of the fonts the team has served up specifically because of their high quality.

There are other restrictions in place, too, like a lack of choice when it comes to font color. Users can set font to be either white, black or a few shades of gray in between, which Marshall said tends to look better on photographic backgrounds in those basic tones. Marshall says that color is a frequent request, however, and he is working on building it in, but he’d also like to introduce additional features like an opacity slider to make sure that color doesn’t take away from the visual impact of Over creations. There’s also a slight tint applied to photos (which can be tweaked by the user) and a very minimal drop shadow applied to text that helps words pop when placed over pictures.

“We’re going to be improving that tint feature a whole lot more, adding some unique stuff that makes text stand out over a photo in a really beautiful way,” Marshall said. “Tint’s just one way we can do that. There are a whole of ways to solve that problem, we just did it on a shoestring budget.”

All-told, Over cost around $50,000 to create, including outsourcing engineering duties to Dallas-based Oven Bits. The money was Marshall’s own, along with some investment from a friend, but Over already has a revenue model (it’s a paid app which also has in-app purchases), and looking for outside funding is also on the table.

Ultimately, Marshall sees Over as an app that’s not only capable of making a top quality text over image experience available to everyone, but one that also offers much more robust premium editing features available for professionals who need them, too. That’ll require a lot more development work, but the current iteration of Over definitely presents a solid jumping off point for that kind of creative power.

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