Divide and Conquer: Hong Kong’s Stepcase Isn’t Trying to Beat Instagram

September 8, 2011

10:00 am

Stepcase has found a unique way to avoid feature bloat in its Steply photo apps: make a whole bunch of them.

“Our philosophy is to create fun but very simple apps,” explains founder Leon Ho, who created the blog Lifehack.org.

That means that each of their ten iOS photo apps has one basic function. They began with Darkroom, which detects when your hand is steady and snaps photos then. Labelbox lets you create labels by dragging them across photos and adding text. Photo Mess, popular in Japan and China, is for making collages; and Fusioncam, popular in the United States, takes multiple-exposure photos.

Ho thinks user experience would be diluted if these apps were integrated, and he might be right: Steply’s piecemeal approach has garnered around 8 million downloads, and some commenters have noticed users posting Fusioncam photos to Instagram. And Ho is just fine with that: he sees the two main photo industries as sharing and processing, and he is targeting the latter.

Steply is also aimed at an international market. Users can share their photos on various social networks, including the Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo, and Ho is exploring options in Korea and Japan.

“There are tons of mobile photographers in Asia. People take a lot of photos of anything that can describe their life,” says Ho.

Ho lived in Australia for 14 years, where he was less inclined to pull out his camera in public. But in Asia, he says, it is common for people to routinely take self-portraits and snapshots before meals. Those photos can be uploaded to the single Steply network, where you can message, follow, and like the photos of other users.

Stepcase, which is being incubated at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks, is releasing more Steply apps soon, including one called Photobooth. Smart photographers will probably pick and choose their favorites so their relationship with photos doesn’t get complicated.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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