When Apple launched the iPhone 6 in September 2015, the world went gaga over its Live Photo feature, introduced for the first time in any smartphone. But, around the same time, two NSIT third year students – Himanshu Singla and Gaurav Vij were silently working on hopping to the next level – a journey to transport each individual in his/her own world of 3D Live Photos with their app – Movense.
The main idea of Movense is to allow people to create 3D content in a quick and hassle-free manner and then immerse themselves in it. The Movense app allows users to snap life, travel journeys, selfies, food, fashion in pictures with a new file format MOVE, that renders pics in 3D motion with reverse playback. These pictures remain static unless interacted with i.e. they become alive when one swipes on the image or flip his/her smartphone.
“We call these living images Moves. Moves allow gesture-based forward/backward motion flow. So now your fingers have the power to reverse the flow of waterfall in a picture or make the plane fly backward mid-air. People across the globe are sharing Moves in the Movense community,” says Gaurav.
Based in Delhi, the founders made the official launch in March 2017 and is currently working with a team of six. Movense is currently running on Android and can also be accessed over the web. The startup is majorly active in Europe, specifically North UK, Russia, Bulgaria, and India.
The team has to date raised a funding of $40K and is backed by investors such as Arvind Jha, Nirav Choksi, and Rajeev Saraf. In their earlier days, they were also incubated at Nasscom for a six-month period.
The website and app combined have around 15,000 users, 5,000+ Moves and has registered over 5 Lakh Move views. A Move View is an interaction by the user with Move either through touch swipe or flip of a smartphone.
So far, the numbers may not be much to boast of, but the idea and the technology they are touting is quite remarkable. As shared by Gaurav,
“We are on a mission to create cutting-edge, immersive, mobile photography technologies for consumers and businesses by improving the way people interact with media. We want to grow as a globally recognised content creation hub from India and have positioned in the US among other countries. When it comes to creating AR/VR content, we aim to be the one stop platform for all artists providing them the required software, APIs, and plugins to create 3D content. We want to make 3D content creation so easy that even an individual can brag about it and can capture real life object/people in 360 degrees, create their 3D models and then view them without the need of any other hardware even if they didn’t exist in the real time.”
This kind of futuristic tech reminded me of Minority Report and Iron Man as I delved more into Movense- an experiential photography enabling company, as the founders call themselves.
Movense Founder’s Journey: From Building A 3D Video Sharing Platform To 3D Live Photos App
The date July 27, 2015, is pretty well known for OnePlus 2 worldwide launch in VR. But for Himanshu and Gaurav – this was the day they were left mesmerised on the power of virtual reality (VR).
Both Gaurav and Himanshu come from tech backgrounds. While Himanshu excels in creating software, Gaurav had earlier worked on a solar-powered electric vehicles project. As Gaurav reminisces, “It was a two-year-project and I was heading a 20-member team. This was my first experience on both the tech and non-tech fronts. While, on one hand, I learned the intricacies of an electric vehicle, on the other hand, I learned how to get things done from people amidst closing deadlines.” Although it was a college-sponsored project, Gaurav was able to raise funds from Ministry of renewable energy in his third year of graduation i.e. 2015. “All this helped us a lot in understanding the aspects of actually running a venture in the real world,” he added.
While tinkering with new ideas to start their entrepreneurial journey, the OnePlus 2 launch made them stop on the Virtual Reality (VR) segment. As Himanshu explains, “They used VR headsets, Google, and their own OnePlus Cardboard page to allow people sitting across the globe to experience a 360-degree view of the launch event. This immersed the users in the environment.”. This was the time when only YouTube was known as a platform to showcase 360-degree videos. Even Facebook was not into it. “So, we thought of doing something similar,” adds Himanshu.
Within a week, the duo built a prototype website which allowed users to view 360-degree videos of popular travel locations. They partnered with content creators from France, Switzerland, Bulgaria, etc. to upload their content on the website. Although they got visibility and traction they soon realised that this concept would not work in India. “For a 2-minute video, the file size was 250-300 MB, which, combined with the slow Internet speed in our country, takes forever to download. Plus, there was No Reliance Jio that time, so data packs cost a lot,” opines Gaurav.
As their purpose was to build something that can be adopted at the mass level, their focus shifted to photography. As Gaurav says,
“We live in a selfie age. People love snapping their moments and building memories and creating a gallery of content for themselves and their future generations. We thought to add an immersive and interactive effect into it, making the static photos live. At the same time, we aim to be different from the formats of images and videos that exist in the current scenario and create something better than a photo, but lesser than a video. Thus, Movense was born.”
How Movense Works?
The founders created a separate file format MOVE To let users create Moves (images that move) in a 3D format as well as make it interactive. After clicking a picture, the snapshot is stored in the Movense gallery under the MOVE file format and each Move taken is pre-processed and post-processed in a matter of microseconds. This allows the user to see the picture in both forward (left to right) and backward (right to left) motion, unlike the traditional GIF or JPEG files which can be played in only one direction, forward.
As Gaurav explains, “Let’s say a video of three seconds has n no of frames. To play that video in reverse effect, you have to reorder all the frames in reverse and then re-encode the file. However, MOVE file format, allows dynamic gesture based forward/backward motion flow in a way that everything is happening in microseconds. Right now, moves can be captured for a maximum duration of four seconds.”
He further adds, “For playing these Moves, we have built our own player, where these Moves can be played. So, at present, when you share the MOVE file with others, the other person gets a link, which he/she can either open directly on the web browser or can download the Movense app and watch on our community.”
The Tech Behind Movense: How It Is Different From Others
Traditionally, the first thing to be recalled when it comes to playback is the way we used to forward and reverse our age old video cassettes in VCRs. Even today, television sets (with the help of DVRs) have the functionality of forwarding and reversing a picture in motion.
The Apple iPhone 6S took this feature a notch higher in a more-advanced version. It introduced the feature of taking live images which record what happens 1.5 seconds before and after a user take a picture. Sports replays are another contextual example, as well as live 3D wallpapers which are available for both the web and mobiles.
While the Movense player is negating these traditional concepts of playback and modern version of live photos, how does it claim to be different from them? Gaurav explains, “3D Live wallpapers have a built-in format and a common user cannot create them instantly. Next, in cricket, for example, what they have is the raw files on which they have created some APIs and file formats of their own just like we have created our own. The technology might seem similar but the user has no control over it. What if we can create a Move of a sixer by MS Dhoni, and a cricket lover can see it back and forth as many times he wants. Thus, Movense is about giving control in the hands of the end user both for creating as well as interacting with the content.”
He further explained that what Apple has created is essentially a short video which plays over the picture and, like all others, videos only play in the forward motion. They have just built real clean UI that gives the impression that a photo is moving. “But in essence, when someone is capturing the photo, a video is captured in the background. Plus, those videos are very heavy in size and are not shareable,” he adds.
The Movense team has recently launched a feature wherein a Move can be added as a 3D live wallpaper on a user’s mobile screen. Also, they have converted SD quality Moves to the HD quality version.
This instantly made me recall another movie series. Remember the moving pics in The Daily Prophet in the Harry Potter movies? No wonder, if in future we can have such kind of newspapers if startups like Movense continue scaling and developing the more advanced tech over their existing one.
Technical Glitches To Improve And Ideas In Pipeline
As Himanshu says, “It took us 10 months to create the MOVE file format and we have improved it a lot. When we started out, the initial Moves were 20MB apiece. Now we have optimised the size on the basis of quality and compression and we are now providing MOVE files at 2 to 5 MB. This has improved viewing and has reduced the buffer time, but there is still a lot to improve.”
For instance, after creating a Move, it is automatically shared on the Movense Community. This is a major drawback as, for the current Millennials, privacy is the biggest concern. So, they are working on adding privacy settings to the Movense app.
Another glitch that the Movense team is currently working on is making a Move shareable across platforms. As Gaurav explains,
“Right now, a user is redirected to a web browser or the Movense app for seeing the shared Move. We are trying to make it like a GIF file, which can play automatically on different platforms. In that way, if a person is sharing the Move on WhatsApp, it can be played there itself. Our aim is to completely eliminate the Movense player to view the created Moves and make the content platform- agnostic.”
In this regard, during the recent One Plus 5 launch, the Movense team collaborated with tech media firm Digit.in. There they created a Move for the OnePlus 5 smartphone and integrated it into one of Digit’s articles. So, whenever a reader comes to that page, he/she can see the smartphone in a 360-degree angle without the use of any external hardware.
Furthermore, they are in talks with Smartphone OEMs to integrate Movense directly into mobile phones. “The idea is to integrate Movense as an option in the Camera feature, just like you right now get features like Prisma, Panorama, and more. Once there, the Move will be stored in the user’s gallery and can be shared across different platforms,” says Gaurav.
Also, they recently added color filters to the Movense app. “For instance, PRISMA has eight filters. We are bringing something similar too so one would be able to edit their Moves so it could have an appearance like a painting in motion,” he adds. In the long-term, there is also a vision to work in AR where images can be separated from their background and allow the user to view them in a free environment. For example, the image of a person can be separated from his background and can be converted to a 3D object moving in all directions, without any external hardware.
For once we can even quote Indian cinema here. Recent movies such Makhhi, Bsahubali have done wonders with 3D technology and motion capture but the best example is the movie Jeans. In 1998, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan starer movie ‘Jeans’ showcased a similar but far more advanced concept. In the song below, the original and duplicate version of Aishwarya dance together, while in reality there was no duplicate and the song showcased the use of motion capture technology.
Movense: Monetising While Placing Entry Barriers
As of now, the Movense team is not looking at monetising and the entire focus is on building the user base and making them fall in love with the product. In coming times, they will monetise through advertisers’ sponsored content and possibly also charge integration fees from prospective partnered OEMs.
With tech players like Facebook and Google having an eagle eye on technologies all around the world, how does Movense hope to place entry barriers? To this Gaurav gives an honest reply. “When Prisma came, within 3 months Facebook had the same feature. We understand that while new players might have difficulty to cope up with the funds and energy we have already spent, big players do not. They have a large pool of funds as well as resources and they will not take as much time to adopt new technology. But there are ways in which we can combat them.”
As Gaurav describes further, the first thing they are counting on is their code for the MOVE files. “We have projected our technology in such a deeply integrated manner that it is very difficult to extract the code. But even if someone does so, he will have to spend the same energy on creating the same level of user experience that we have incorporated after several iterations.”
Next is, the MOVEs are easily shareable across their own file format like popular JPEG files. Gaurav explains as follows. “For instance, Snapchat has stories. It took Facebook five-six months to bring something similar to the platform. These stories are essentially videos. But since we have our own file format, we are at a potentially greater advantage. If we are able to partner with even 10K companies, and then Facebook comes up with this feature, they have to again go through the same process of integrating, which in real-time is very time and cost consuming. And there are like 100 Mn websites globally, so we have an opportunity to make every website show Moves on their platform.”
Tech startups which are front runners in disrupting existing technologies are at an advantage and disadvantage. The advantage is that they are going to create something brand-new and change the way existing technology and, by extension, the market behaves. If executed well, these companies go on to become Snapchat, Instagram and more. Movense, with its potentially game-changing technology, has the same kind of potential.
But, Movense is also bound by the disadvantages that come with being a frontrunner at disruption. The startup has to achieve immense scale and a critical mass of users by increasing brand adoption and awareness. This means, that their visibility cannot be limited to just the Movense app.
It also depends on the partnerships the company is able to build with smartphone OEMs, which again depends on the validity of use cases based on the number of users as well as the sophistication of the product. For now, the founders consider building these partnerships as their prime challenge. They do consider global players like Fyuse – a 3D Spatial Photography Company, live photo tool Polaroid Swing (limited to the American region) and even Instagram as threats in the digital photography community. Also, the competition gets fiercer with the existing players building the advanced versions with new feature integrations. For instance, art filter photo app PRISMA added video support, while Snapchat recently rolled out world lenses continuing its push in the augmented reality (AR).
But, as Gaurav aptly concludes, “Every product has its own lifespan and we will have a lifespan of two to three years. In that phase, we have to scale it up and keep building something new over it. Our product is unique and we do have the potential to scale globally, but all we need to do is keep on simplifying the integration procedure and make the API integration a few minutes game to run Moves anywhere, be it – websites, apps, smartphones, or social media platforms.”
For Movense, the future looks especially bright with even an acquisition from a bigger player not ruled out, but the question remains. How far and fast will it be able to scale live 3D photos and the MOVE file technology to move the needle on user adoption to bring about a true disruption in the field of art and photography?