Computer vision and clever imaging technology remain hot areas in consumer and enterprise apps, and today Microsoft is picking up a startup called Swng Technologies to give it some IP and talent in this department.
Swng Technologies had developed a cinemagraph app called Swng (originally called Polaroid Swing) that lets you take impressionistic, GIF-like short videos that you can then ‘move’ buy dragging your finger or a mouse across them. The startup’s team will be joining Microsoft’s Skype division, the companies said today.
Skype may be known more as an app that lets you make voice and video calls, but it has been revamping itself as a more enhanced messaging and chat app, with a Cortana integration and a Snapchat-inspired makeover earlier this year. It’s not clear exactly what Swng will be doing at Microsoft.
The terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but from what I understand, the app will continue to live on for the time being. Swng was a small company that had around 10 employees including ex-Apple engineers and computer vision specialists from MIT among its staff when it launched last year. It’s not clear how many of them are still with the startup, or which employees will be joining Microsoft.
The news marks the end of an interesting journey for the startup. Co-founders Tommy Stadlen and Frederick Bladford had very little startup experience — and no technical experience — when they met Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and came up with the idea of a cinemagraphic app.
Stone was so enthusiastic about the concept that he invested in the startup, became its chairman, and even travelled to Minnesota to ask PLR, who had been the owners of Polaroid’s IP at the time, for permission to use the brand in the app.
(Stone’s excitement proved to be infectious: PLR subsequently became an investor in the app. As did Lloyd Dorfman, the founder of Travelex, among other undisclosed investors.)
The app launched in 2016 very much with Polaroid branding on its sleeve, promising to bring the name back from the photographic graveyard by using it prominently in its ambitious app.
“Polaroid Swing has the potential to change the way we think about images, just like Twitter’s 140 characters changed how we think about words,” said Stone at the time. “People will start seeing the world in one-second moments. It’s a genre-defining medium.”
Stone was not the only name associated with the app. Cole Rise, the photographer who helped build early filters for Instagram, also helped design Swng and once held the role of chief creative officer.
But in these days of fast-changing tastes, not every app is a rocket, and while Polaroid Swing saw some early success, it couldn’t sustain that.
It may not have helped that Polaroid Swing had to rebrand. In May of this year, the Polaroid IP was acquired by the largest shareholder of the Impossible Project, which was on its own Polaroid mission, to start to produce the cameras and film once again.
That led to the new owner pulling the Polaroid name from various places where it had been licensed, and so Polaroid Swing became Swng.
App analytics firm Apptopia estimates that lifetime downloads of the app have been about 500,000. It averaged about 60,000 monthly active users the first three months of launch, “but the last three have averaged about one-third of that.”
Microsoft, and specifically Skype, will give the Swng team a chance to try to build at significantly more scale.
“This is a unique opportunity for the team to bring our ideas to a global audience,” said Tommy Stadlen, Co-Founder of Swing Technologies, in a statement. “It’s an exciting time to join Microsoft, which is thriving under the leadership of Satya Nadella. We believe in the power of brands and technology, so the Skype mission and values resonate strongly with us.”
On Microsoft’s side, its acquisition track record over the last several years has largely been focused around the company’s enterprise and cloud businesses (its acquisitions of Minecraft-maker Mojang and Altspace VR are two exceptions).
And while it seems that, for now, Microsoft has decided to stop trying to build a blockbuster smartphone, it has continued to work on ways of keeping its hat in the mobile game, through apps.
In the case of photo apps, for Microsoft so far these have been mainly in-house efforts, such as Pix, Sprinkles, and Face Swap — three camera and imaging apps that tap into the company’s AI smarts.
Now, it seems, we can add Swng’s experience and smarts to that list.
“The Swing team’s deep expertise in imaging technology will help us deliver great new features and capabilities for Skype,” said Microsoft’s VP for Skype, Amritansh Raghav, in a statement. “They have an impressive track record of delivering great user experiences and brand design around the technology they develop. I welcome the new team members and am excited about how Swing will deliver innovation to our customers.”