Boxee has seen plenty of changes in 2012 — the company discontinued its PC application to focus on its Boxee Box video streamer and it introduced the Live TV dongle to let the internet-connected device pick up free over-the-air TV signals. Today, Boxee is taking the first step in what could be another major shift in the company's direction with the introduction of Cloudee, a (you guessed it) cloud-based storage service that will let users access their smartphone videos from anywhere, anytime. At first blush that sounds like Dropbox or YouTube, but Cloudee is a different animal — the service is almost a private social network designed for sharing smartphone videos with family and friends, something that's wholly unexpected from a company that makes a Netflix- and Hulu-streaming box. The app is currently only available in private beta for iPhone and iPod touch, but it will be available for other (yet-to-be-revealed) devices in the future. For now, the service offers unlimited storage and is free, but the Boxee plans to charge a fee in the future. We took the opportunity to take the app for a quick spin, so read on for a closer look at what Cloudee is all about.
Cloudee takes a similar approach to many other apps that we've seen by trying to be as dead simple as possible. When you first load up the app there's a brief slideshow to explain what the app is all about — namely, uploading and sharing videos from your smartphone to your friends — and for the private beta you'll need a Facebook account to login (if any of your friends have access you'll automatically get accepted if you request an invite). Once you've done that the app will scan your phone for videos and ask if you'd like to share them, though you can also choose to open the camera and start recording a video to upload.
"We are not trying to replace your Dropbox."
Uploading itself is a basic affair: your only options are to give the video a title, add it to a collection, and choose whom you'd like to share the video with. What's a collection, you ask? Well, it's a group of videos, perhaps from a particular event, that are all uploaded by you or a group of friends and are shared with a particular circle of buddies. For example, if you had a family reunion you could have everyone in the family upload their videos to a single collection and then anyone at the reunion would be able to view the clips. Of course, this brings up another problem: what if your whole family isn't full of Cloudee users? The solution is the simple but versatile sharing tool, which lets you either open access to your videos to every one of your Facebook friends who's on Cloudee or choose specific friends you'd like to share with. You can share using email or SMS to those who don't have Cloudee, and they'll be sent a public link to either a desktop or mobile website — though only users of the service will be able to comment and like a video. Lastly, this will all hook into the Boxee Box via a new tab on the homepage, where you'll be able to view your videos and those from your friends. That's all well and good, but there is one fairly major issue: uploading and encoding of video from our iPhone took far longer than we would have liked (about 20 minutes for a four-minute video on our speedy office Wi-Fi), something that will need to be addressed.
Is this a precursor to Boxee's rumored DVR functionality?
Cloudee may be exciting to some as a video sharing platform, but Boxee is hinting in a not-so-subtle way that this app (and its backend) are destined to have a far greater role in the company's future. The company is calling Cloudeee "the first step towards a Boxee cloud offering" and it says that the service "will become an integral part of ... Boxee." It's certainly unclear what Boxee is alluding to here, but it does offer a bit of a hint with the statement: "We believe more of our video watching will shift towards on demand and secondary screens, which will mean more video coming from the cloud." Boxee will likely be leveraging the cloud to offer the services that are currently stuck on the Boxee Box across other devices, like your smartphone, tablet, or computer. An even more intriguing possibility, as GigaOM points out, is that this cloud service may someday be utilized in a DVR service for use in conjunction with the Live TV dongle. That'd certainly be an appealing choice for many cable cutters, but we'll just have to wait and see. For now, you can sign up for Cloudee's waiting list here.