With all of the success tablets in the post PC era, the persistent knock on the devices has been that they’re great for consuming content, but not so great for creating it. For many, the Holy Grail of app design has been the challenge of developing a touch-driven content creation platform that eliminates the need for a mouse, a keyboard, and even a stylus.
“We believe that this is the future of storytelling,” CEO Brent Brookler says. “Hopefully this will debunk the myth once and for all that you can’t create great content on these devices and enjoy doing so.”
The app is not quite powerpoint, nor a photo gallery, but exists is somewhere in between. From my perspective, it’s really the best of both worlds. The end result is visually compelling, but the creation process is painfully simple.
Users can begin with one of a dozen themes (or templates) that range from business presentation to schoolwork to vacation scrapbook. Photos and video can be imported directly from the iPad’s camera roll, in-app Google image search, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Dropbox, Box, and other sources. Once inserted, size and positioning are controlled by familiar pinch, drag, and rotate gestures.
Once the media is laid out, user can then add text, Web links, links to other flowboard pages, and additional design elements and then share the end product within the app or elsewhere across the social Web. All content is synced to the cloud, but Flowboard works offline as well, saving to local memory until a connection is restored.
Users can discover a curated selection of publicly shared Flowboards within the app’s Featured tab, and download and save those which they enjoy to their Library for offline viewing. Soon, users will be able to follow one another, and leave comments on individual Flowboards.
One potentially troubling twist is that all Flowboards default to public. Brookler says that the app relies on a Tumblr-style “security through obscurity” methodology, meaning that it will be nearly impossible to guess the exact URL of an individual piece of content unless a link is shared. But, if people are meant to use the product to document intimate family moments or articulate important business concepts, this may not be good enough.
Treemo Labs has a history of building apps to share content on the Web and mobile. For seven years, the company has been building branded apps for clients like CBS and The Rolling Stones – who it continues to serve. Tired of working on spec, the 12 person team launched its first proprietary app, Appafolio, last year to give novice mobile developers a drag and drop platform for building basic mobile apps. Now, with that experience under its belt, Brookler and crew are taking things a step further by tackling mobile storytelling.
Flowboard is available on a freemium model, with the paid premium version offering additional monthly storage capacity and larger file size limits for $5 per month. Currently, all templates and design elements are free, but Brookler expects to add paid options at some point down the line. It’s unclear whether these paid features will appeal to consumers – perhaps ultra-power users, should the emerge – but if the company can attract a business crowd, then a sizeable business may emerge.
The Flowboard team is already working on the next set of upgrades. One of the most requested features during the beta process was alignment guides, which Brookler says will be coming in the next release along with several other incremental improvements. The company is also hard at work building iPhone and Android versions of its app which should be available later this year.
The app currently has nine five star ratings in the App Store, although things are obviously early. But the Flowboard team has been pleased with the variety of uses that people have found for the product. An Italian musician recently uploaded a flowboard of his bass guitar collection, the founder says, while a clothing company used it to make an interactive brochure. Brookler has been using the app personally to document family vacations.
Flowboard is not alone in this category. Its Seattle neighbors Haiku Deck are attempting to solve the same tablet-first presentation problem, as are Apple’s Keynote and 9Slides’ interactive slideshow tool. There are a number of multi-media Web storytelling tools available as well, such as Mural.ly and NewHive, that fall into a similar category.
Each of the apps targets a slightly different use case, and Brookler isn’t overly worried about competition at this early stage. One of the key differences he points out, at least among his mobile competitors, is that Flowboards can be shared not by sending a file, but simply by sending a URL which can be view on the Web or within the app.The company also offers more interactivity than a traditional slideshow product.
Flowboard (then Treemo Labs) raised $2.55 million in 2007 from JK&B Capital. Much of Flowboard’s development was paid through profits from Treemo’s brand work, but arlier this year, the company raised a $600,000 bridge loan from angel investors including Geoff Entress, Rudy Gadre, Jim Judson, and Brett Brewer. Now the company hoping to get some positive market feedback before going out to raise a more traditional venture round.
This isn’t Brookler’s first startup rodeo. He founded gaming and entertainment startup Mobliss in 2000 and subsequently sold the company to Japan’s Index Corporation in 2004. Since then, when not building his own companies, he has been an active angel investors, including making an early bet in Swype.
Mobile content creation is a legitimate problem that must be solved if we are to make a full transition to a post PC world. Flowboard has created a simple but compelling mobile-first platform for multimedia storytelling. The company’s founders are hoping to let the market decide whether this is a consumer- or professional-grade product, and whether its one which can be monetized. In the meantime, they’re simply content to help people create beautiful content, and have fun while doing so.