Aura rethinks the digital picture frame with smarter software, sensors & gesture control – TechCrunch
Weâre taking more digital photos than ever, but weâre not very good about printing them out to enjoy them in our homes. Meanwhile, the digital picture frame marketÂ has filled with cheap products that havenât kept up with technology developments, like ubiquitous Wi-Fi, better photo quality, and higher resolutions, in order to instead chase ever-lower price points. AuraÂ aims to pick up where the industry left off, by offering a digital picture frame thatâs beautiful enough to beÂ hung on the wall, but also takes advantage of modern technology, like retina displays, mobile apps, facial recognition, gesture control, and sensors.
The end result is a digital picture frame thatâs actually not terribleâ¦in fact, it may even be something to lust after.
Aura was founded by Abdur Chowdhury, the Summize founder who became Twitterâs Chief Scientist, and CTO Eric Jensen. Itâs the latest product from their companyÂ Pushd, which previously had tried its hand at mobile applications.
The co-founders had both had horrible experiences with the digital picture frames they had bought themselves, which prompted the idea for Aura. TheyÂ realized there was opportunity to innovate in the digital picture frame market, which had not evolved with the times.
âWhen we looked at the digital picture frame market, we were shocked at what we found,â explains Chowdhury. âIt was and is the anti-technology story. 2006 they take off, but in the next decade, the resolution has not changed. Many no longer exist, and those with Wi-FiÂ are all but gone. It was a market, in my opinion, ahead of its time, in that the technology did not meet the consumerâs expectations,â he says.
With Aura, the team has built an attractive, 8Ã12 picture frame that comes in two colors, ivory with rose gold trim or black with charcoal trim. The frame is acrylic, is edged in anodized aluminum, and the kit comes with a stand or accessories for wall hanging. Unfortunately, thereâs still a power cord, but itâs wrapped in a cloth material to make it less garish.
Meanwhile, the screen is basicallyÂ theÂ same retina display in your iPad (2,048 x 1,536 resolution), which makes pictures look really crisp and clear.
But what makes Aura interesting, also, is its use of technology in terms of interacting with the device and feeding it content. You use theÂ accompanying mobile app to syncÂ an album you create toÂ the device, or you can take advantage ofÂ Auraâs facial recognition software to automate the process.
The app will identify the faces in your photos, then you can toggle on aÂ âSmart Selectâ feature to automate updating the frame with images. The software not only identifies which photos to send,Â and continues to update as you take more pictures, it also filters out blurry and bad photos â like those with your eyes closed, duplicates, and those that wonât crop well. Thereâs a nudity filter, too, for privacyâs sake.
Plus, you can invite family members to collaborate on albums, for a more social experience.
In addition, the frame includes sensors that determine if youâre in the room, and then only changes the photos after youâve left. That way, when you return, youâre always greeted with a new and different experience. And it can sense when youâve shut off the lights, so it will turn off, too.
Another clever feature is gesture control. That is, you can use âMinority Reportâ-likeÂ swipe gestures at the sensor to move back and forth between your photos. (I was able to test this myself, and it worked fairly well, though thereâs a slight lag. Itâs something I could see kids having a lot of fun with, however.)
Though the team was not planning on raising funding, when they talkedÂ with Spark Capital GP Kevin Thau, he was interested in this idea of a device thatâs ambiently aware of you, andÂ trying to display what you love the most. Spark Capital ended up funding a $6 million Series AÂ for Aura, the company announced this week.
âItâs crazyâ¦we spend so much time in our homes and never surround ourselves with all of the wonderful memories we have captured,â writes Thau, inÂ a blog post.
In the future, youâll be able to daisy-chain together multiple frames to display photos selected through the software, and the company will eventually expand to include more frame sizes and colors.
The current frame costs $399, which makes it less of a competitor to those low-cost rivals bought for the grandparents, and more likeÂ something you buy for yourself, for your own home.
âWe think about this product less as a gadget âÂ historically, thatâsÂ what thisÂ category was. WeÂ wanted to make a truly beautifulÂ picture frame, that also happens to be very smart,â explainsÂ Jonathan Wirt, Auraâs head of marketing, of the price point and target consumer.
Aura isÂ not yet shipping, but the website is now taking sign-ups. Subscribers will be notified when they launch. At that time, orders will be accepted online, and frames will ship in about a week.