PicWing Out to Simplify Photo Sharing on Digital Frames

In an ideal world, your digital photos would be shared and archived instantly, behind the scenes, as soon as you snapped them. They’d be wirelessly transmitted to your friends’ phones or e-mail addresses, a photo sharing site like Flickr or Snapfish, your social-networking accounts at Facebook or MySpace, a media storage site like Box.net, your digital photo frame at home, and, if you wished, to your favorite photo lab for printing.

As it turns out, there are companies working on most parts of this not-so-futuristic picture. Camera phones can already transmit photos wirelessly, and for regular non-wireless cameras, Eye-Fi makes an SD memory card that doubles as a Wi-Fi chip, automatically uploading your pictures to the photo-sharing site of your choice as soon as you come within range of a Wi-Fi network. If you have an iPhone, the App Store includes any number of apps that instantly upload your photos to the Web (AirMe and Flickup connect to Flickr, for instance, while SnapMyLife and Phanfare connect to their own new photo-sharing communities). Parrot makes digital photo frames that can grab pictures from camera phones over Bluetooth, and eStarling and other manufacturers make Wi-Fi-equipped frames that can display photos stored on your home PC’s hard drive, or tap into RSS feeds from the major photo sharing sites.

But so far, there isn’t a single overarching photo-sharing solution. If you wanted to broadcast all your photos to all your devices and accounts, you’d still have to cobble together two or three of the kinds of services outlined above. That’s probably one reason why software engineer, venture investor, and Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, in a July 2008 post called “Startup Ideas We’d Like to Fund,” remarked that “there is huge growth still to come” in the market for photo and video sharing services. “There may ultimately be 30 different subtypes of image/video sharing service, half of which remain to be discovered,” Graham wrote.

The PicWing Digital Photo FrameWell, as it turns out, Y Combinator was already funding at least one of those subtypes of services when Graham wrote his post. San Francisco-based PicWing—one of the startups that just completed Y Combinator’s “summer term” in Cambridge, MA, and presented at the incubator’s recent Demo Day—wants to simplify the digital photo scene by bringing out a wireless digital photo frame that users reach via e-mail.

“Digital photo frames are a great idea, but the current photo frames are pretty bad,” says PicWing co-founder Enrique Rodriguez. “It takes a lot of effort to get your pictures onto them. We’re trying to let you push pictures directly to the frame, so your non-technical relatives can look at the frame and there they are.” To make a photo show up on PicWing’s frame, all you have to do is send it to the frame’s unique e-mail address, whether from your home computer or your cell phone.

Rodriguez and fellow founder Eddie Kim are building the first batch of PicWing frames by hand. Each frame is basically a small Linux computer, attached to the back of a 7-inch LCD screen, that incorporates incoming photos into an Adobe Flash-based slide show. The pair already has a 6- to 8-week backlog of orders for the device, which they’ve priced at $249.

To give potential buyers a taste of how PicWing works, Kim and Rodriguez have also built free widgets that display photos e-mailed to a user’s PicWing account on a PC desktop, inside a blog post or Web page, or on a Chumby (a bizarre little device that’s one-quarter clock radio, one-quarter … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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3 responses to “PicWing Out to Simplify Photo Sharing on Digital Frames”

  1. Mike Smith says:

    Great writeup. Picwing is really cool!