In the first major update to its Carousel photo backup app, Dropbox is adding albums and expanding the app’s presence to iPads, Android tablets, and the web.
It’s a logical move for Carousel to grow its footprint, which was previously limited to smartphones, especially when these new platforms offer larger screens that are more conducive to browsing and sharing photos. The iPad app and website are both available Thursday, and a version for Android tablets will follow in a few weeks, according to the cloud storage company.
But for a photo app, the addition of albums–first rolling out to Android phones and then to other devices in the coming weeks–hardly seems like news. If anything, it makes you wonder if this was a major oversight that Dropbox’s photos team is finally addressing. But it turns out that the absence of albums until now was entirely intentional.
When CEO Drew Houston showed off Carousel at a media event in April, he brought out a slide projector to illustrate a pain point about storing and organizing photos: They’re trapped and siloed off in various devices, including phones, tablets, computers, and even trays of slides.
The premise for Carousel was that it should be an effortless, seamless way to organize photos living across any and all devices a person owned, owns, or will ever own. To that end, Carousel automatically backs up photos from devices’ camera rolls to users’ Dropbox accounts and organized them chronologically.
A key feature that makes it easy to browse snapshots–not to mention, rediscover old memories–is the speed scroller, an unobtrusive timeline at the bottom of the screen that lets users quickly jump to a point in time or scroll through months, even years, of photos, without the endless flicking of the screen required in apps that make you thumb through photos vertically. “When you have your entire life’s worth of memories on here like this,” Chris Lee, product manager on Dropbox’s photos team, told me while demonstrating the app, “it’s hard to scroll and scroll and scroll.”
Though Dropbox aimed to create an effortless photo backup and sharing experience, not all Carousel users wanted to be so hands-off. (The company said it has more than 300 million users for the Dropbox service overall, but declined to break out figures for Carousel.) They wanted to organize photos in non-chronological ways–for example, to have all their food porn shots or summer vacations in one easy-to-find place. In short: They wanted albums.
“We like to make things as simple as possible,” Lee says. “That’s why we started with automatic organization, so you didn’t have to do anything to group photos into events. This is great at organizing based on time. Albums are great at organizing across time.”
Since Carousel’s release, the photos team, comprising 35 engineers, rolled out updates to reduce the number of steps needed to share an image and added support for Instagram and Whatsapp. For its latest refresh, Carousel also cleaned up the user interface on its mobile apps to reduce white space and leverage face-detection technology to enlarge and highlight photos with people in them.
Though Dropbox aims to help preserve people’s memories, it’s worth noting that its photo strategy will ultimately feed into the company’s bottom line. The more photos people store on its servers, the more cloud storage they’ll ultimately need. After all, image organization aside, one of the most compelling reasons for using Carousel is that photos hog up a lot of precious space on smartphones. (Lee declined to comment on Dropbox’s strategy or note how many photos have been backed up via Carousel.)
Lee admits that Carousel is still far from perfect. For example, though trapped white space has been pushed out of its mobile apps, it’s still present in the web version. With more robust imaging technology, he said Carousel could also potentially create smart albums that automatically organize photos by certain themes, such as food.
“There’s a lot more we want to do to get to Carousel being the home for all your photos and videos,” he says.