iPhone & Photos: Business opportunities through Apps

I never underestimate anything related to photos.My biggest lesson came years ago after a demo of one of the first camera phones.

I never underestimate anything related to photos.

My biggest lesson came years ago after a demo of one of the first camera phones. My initial reaction at the time: Who is ever going to take a picture with a phone? I couldn't have been more wrong. In fact, I don't even want to guess how many text, photo or video messages are being sent from the inauguration ceremony in Washington this morning? It's got to be in the tens of millions, right? After all, pretty much every phone these days has the ability to send and receive picture - and even video - messages.

Well, not every phone. In case you didn't know it, the iPhone doesn't send or receive picture or video messages. For some, that's a major disappointment. After all, the best thing about shooting camera phone pics is sharing them with other camera phone users. But for others, the missing MMS feature on the iPhone has created a business opportunity in the App Store.

Big Canvas

Big Canvas, a startup out of the Seattle area, is an example of a company that's doing more than just trying to build a photo-sharing network. Granted, the sharing application - an iPhone freebie - is an important element. But the money comes in via the 99-cent and $1.99 apps that let you do fun things with your photos - like making them look like oil paintings, adding your own drawings on top of them, wrapping a holiday frame around them or even turning a pic into a Valentine's Day card and countdown to the date - to share with the significant other, of course.

Another is Memeo, which may have found a niche by bridging the gap between advanced users and those who may still be struggling with e-mail attachments or Web interfaces. Shoot a pic with your iPhone, save it to one of your "sharing circles" - friends, family or co-workers, for example. Then, invite people to download and install a Memeo program on their computers that will allow them to see new photos in the sharing circle as they're uploaded.

In both cases, the business model is built on the ability to form a network of users who are willing to share photos this way, as opposed to the established standard of MMS. Both offer an interesting alternative for iPhone users but that doesn't mean that I'm predicting that either will be home-runs. Photo sharing is a crowded and competitive field and getting people to transition to something new isn't always easy.

Still, I am intrigued by the idea that these two companies are building businesses around the iPhone. You can almost bet that Apple will certainly talk up the growth of iPhone apps when it reports its quarterly earnings later this week. With Apps, iTunes has gone from being an online marketplace for music, movies and TV shows to a virtual mega-mall, complete with sellers of video games, finance software, workout sessions, business tools and even sophomoric novelties.

By not offering one of the most basic tools found almost every other phone out there - the ability to send and receive MMS messages - Apple is forcing its faithful iPhone user base to accept that the feature isn't there and adapt to a new way of sharing photos. Hmmm. The iPhone is already looking less like a phone and more like a handheld computer. Now, it seems Apple may be able to get others to think of it in the same way, starting with how they shoot and share photos.

Like I said at the top, I never underestimate anything that has to do with photos.

Also see: Apple’s future: It’s in the Touch