Animated GIFs have enjoyed a renaissance on the internet lately, and one particularly stunning outcrop of that trend is the Cinemagraph, the product of visual artist Kevin Burg and photographer Jamie Beck. Cinemagraphs have inspired a couple recent startups, including the popular and fairly well-publicized Cinemagram, as well as Flixel, a new app launched this week and built by Endloop Mobile.
Flixel, like Cinemagram, offers users the ability to create their own, admittedly more lo-fi versions of Burg and Beck’s Cinemagraphs, by recording a short video using their iPhones and then selecting a portion or portions of that recording to animate in a brief, looped GIF. Users can add effects to their creations via filters, much like filters in Instagram. Flixel does offer more filter options than its competition, including a unique one that colorizes the animated area while keeping the static image in black and white.
That’s not the only thing Flixel offers that Cinemagram doesn’t, though. The app is free, first of all, a trait it shares with Instagram, but not with its competition. That lower price tag results in a lower barrier of entry for users, and founder Philippe LeBlanc thinks Flixel also offers a user experience advantage.
“The main differentiator from Cinemagram and other competitors is [your creations] literally comes to life while you’re unveiling it with your finger,” he said. “With the competition, you have to mask it, process it, realize that you didn’t really mask it the right way, go back and re-mask it.” By contrast, Flixel shows you how the masked area will look as you’re working, so you know right away whether or not it looks right.
“Once you play around with ours in the creation process, I don’t think you can go back,” LeBlanc contends. The approach definitely does have its advantages, though it also comes with trade-offs elsewhere; there’s a processing delay before you edit the image, instead of after its edited and before you post. Still, LeBlanc is confident users would rather have more control over the appearance of their animations while they’re still easy to edit, rather than when its easier to go forward or delete than post.
When asked about why Flixel previews are static images until clicked, LeBlanc says Flixel is a “good data citizen.” While GIFs aren’t huge files, they’re still larger than images without any kind of animation, which is partly why LeBlanc and his dev team chose to omit any motion until an image is clicked. There’s another, bigger reason thumbnail previews stay still, LeBlanc says, which is that it makes for a smoother browsing experience – users encounter images as they scroll through feeds, not loading bars.
Flixel, while free, still has a revenue-generating component in place at launch; similar to in other photo-focused apps, users can pay to unlock premium filters, including the “Flixelize” filter, which is the one that generates the color-isolating effect mentioned above. LeBlanc also said there are other revenue plans being considered for later on, including the possible introduction of branded Flixels, but he stresses that the emphasis will be on building community long before that occurs.
In pursuit of growing that community, LeBlanc said that Flixel is currently pursuing funding options to build on its initial $260,000 in seed funding. That money will go into growing the team, too, which in turn will help Flixel continue to focus on delivering better user experience.
Flixel may not be the first to the space, but LeBlanc thinks it can be the best, especially because the time is right. “As the technology gets better, I think we’re at an interesting spot right now where the early adopters from the competition have shown that there’s a market for this,” he said, “But users are eager to be able to do better ones, and I think we provide that.”
Update: Cinemagram switched from a paid version of their app to a free version. The app is now available for free to all users.