In April, Dropbox launched Carousel, a standalone app for storing and managing photos and videos on your phone. Designed as a single place to view your life's memories, until now Carousel has only been available for the smallest screen in your life. Today it’s coming to two more: the tablet and the web.
Carousel arrives on iPad and at carousel.com today with a design that will be familiar to users of the phone version: a big grid of videos, supplemented by lightweight messaging features at the top and a scrolling timeline at the bottom. A version for Android tablets, which will look more or less the same, is a couple weeks away. And the phone app is getting a minor redesign that makes it easier to delete photos, among other things. All versions are getting the ability to send photos directly to Instagram and Whatsapp, which join Facebook and Twitter as the app's sharing options.
Carousel doesn't look much different than your phone's camera roll
The question is whether adding new platforms or sharing mechanisms can get people using Carousel, which download charts suggest has struggled to attract users. Sources close to Dropbox tell The Verge that executives have been disappointed with Carousel’s slow growth, particularly given that the company has assigned dozens of engineers to work on the project. (Dropbox declined to say how many active users Carousel has.) To the casual user, Carousel simply doesn’t look much different than the camera roll you already have on your phone. And its messaging features, while useful if using Carousel is a daily habit for you, don’t differ significantly from the sharing options you might find on your phone’s photo app.
In keeping with startup tradition, Dropbox says that what we see today is only the beginning. "For us Carousel is a long-term investment," says Chris Lee, who leads product development for the project. "There are a lot more exciting things that we’re really looking forward to sharing with you in the future. We’ve got a lot of exciting plans for how to make Carousel even more engaging."
The good news for Dropbox is that managing your photos and videos online is still much harder than it should be. Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Yahoo have made various efforts to become your default place for photo storage, but none have felt particularly inspired. When a friend had her baby this week, I tried to explain how to start a photo stream on iOS and share it with her family; I struggled to explain how it works. "My parents are never going to do that," my friend told me, and she was probably right.
None of which is to say that Carousel is necessarily the solution. While executives make much of their goal to build a home for your life’s memories, Carousel does little to take advantage of the warm feelings that old photos can stir up. It doesn’t offer a daily flashback notification, like Timehop or Picturelife; or use machine learning to show you photos taken in different places or in different categories, like Everpix once did. Instead it just offers a big wheel and encourages you to thumb through it from time to time. Dropbox has always been great at storing files and syncing them. But photos are emotional objects, and photo software needs to build on that.
By coming to tablets and the web, Dropbox is at least starting to build out its vision of photos a little more fully. Let’s just hope that vision develops into something more than a glorified camera roll, and soon.