2013-12-18

Co.Labs

This Apple Alum Wants To Tame Your Insane Photo Collection

Tim Bucher used to oversee Mac OS development at Apple. Now he's split off to launch his own startup, Lyve, which aims to rethink the computer as a living room media hub.



The age of smartphone photography has ensured that virtually no event--from the special to the catastrophic--goes undocumented. But it's also created a problem: A huge, unwieldy mess of images, scattered across numerous devices and interfaces. Today, a former Apple executive named CEO Tim Bucher, who once headed the Mac OS team at Apple, is launching a company that aims to focus specifically on home media management with a hardware device called LyveHome.

Lyve is an upcoming cloud-powered service that will let users index, sync, and organize all of their mobile photos and videos across devices. Together with an optional piece of storage hardware called the LyveHome, Lyve will ensure that the photos you take on your iPhone are ready available on your Nexus 7 or laptop and that the whole massive lot of them is easily managed from a common interface.

"We're collecting way more data of our own lives than we've ever collected in history," says Bucher. "Two generations ago, a person might have taken 50 pictures in their lifetime. Last generation, it might have been a few hundred. For this generation, it's literally millions. And today, it's all up to each person to manage that digital content."

It's a problem with which just about any smartphone owner is familiar: We wind up snapping thousands of photos on our phone, which we may or may not get around to transferring to our computer. From there, some of us will eventually back it all up to an external drive, where those memories will languish in whatever oddball folder structure we came up with. Meanwhile, the number of photo-taking devices in our lives seems to slowly proliferate, compounding the organizational nightmare of it all even further.

How Lyve De-Fractures Your Photo Collection

When it launches to the public in April, the Lyve service will unify users' fractured photo collections by indexing the meta data for each image on any device on which the Lyve agent is installed. At launch, that will include any gadget running at least iOS 7, Android 4.1, Mac OS X 10.8, Windows 7, or Windows 8. On desktops and laptops, the index will include external hard drives as well. If there's enough capacity on a given Lyve-enabled device, Lyve will copy those images and videos over, keeping everything synchronized via the cloud. Think Apple's PhotoStream, but with support for video files and capacity that's practically unlimited.

The transfer of content from device to device will be smartly monitored by Lyve's algorithm, which will keep tabs on when and where new photos are taken, ensuring redundancy across your camera-equipped gadgets. If a photo taken on one device hasn't yet made its way over to the device you're holding, you'll be able to tap a thumbnail to load the image remotely. To prevent you from loading up your smartphone with vacation photos from 2009, Lyve will intelligently manage these transfers depending on the capacity available on each device. It also takes into account factors like remaining battery life, cost of bandwidth to the user, and even how likely the user is to lose the device.

In addition to the service, the company will unveil a device at CES next year that can serve as a central storage hub for your gargantuan collection of images. Sporting a five-inch touch screen, an HDMI port, and built-in Wi-Fi, the sleekly designed LyveHome will store up to 2 terabytes of images and video, which it can then serve up to other Lyve-enabled devices.

"The LyveHome is more like a server for your mobile devices," says Bucher. "So you can be out in the field taking photos on your iPhone and you don't have to worry about your device filling up. We create for an infinite camera roll for you."

The product's functionality raises a few obvious questions. For one thing, what about your semi-nude selfies? To keep personal images away from prying eyes, Bucher says Lyve will have granular privacy controls. Of course, that should only matter in scenarios in which the Lyve account is shared among multiple people. If you do misfire a seductive pouty-face mirror shot, Lyve will let you delete the image from all connected devices simultaneously (a feature that presents some risks of it own, selfies or no selfies).

So This Is What They've Been Building

The stealth startup, which was originally called Black Pearl Systems, first made headlines this summer when word got out that a former hardware exec from Apple was building a team of over 40 people from a variety of big-name tech companies. Indeed, to build Lyve, Bucher poached a rather impressive roster of talent from the likes of Apple, Netflix, Google, and Roku. "I wanted the experts in the world of Internet optimization on this team," Bucher says. "Essentially, the whole service team is from Netflix."

Not far from Lyve's Cupertino offices is the headquarters of the tech giant from which Bucher--and many of his new colleagues--came. All told, there are several former Apple employees working at Lyve, mostly on user experience. In addition to a gaggle of talent, Bucher borrowed from his former employer a certain ethos about product development.

"The core appreciation that I have from working with Steve Jobs is of vertical integration. The best user experiences are those that have as many of the pieces of that puzzle in place together. With Lyve, we wanted to create a truly end-to-end solution."

When asked how he managed to recruit so much top talent to work on Lyve, Bucher says that the conversations were "simple" because everyone he talked to agreed that the problem of fractured photo management needs to be solved and that his idea seems well-equipped to solve it. That's a convenient (although certainly not dishonest) answer for a startup founder trying to sell his new product. And while Bucher won't talk about the company's financing, suffice it to say that he has enough cash on hand to lure some talented people away from some big companies. As somebody who started working for Steve Jobs at NeXT, Bucher has been around Silicon Valley for a few decades, undoubtedly amassing quite a few important connections along the way. That can't hurt, either.

[Image: Flickr user Kadorin]