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RealNetworks enters the crowded photo backup market with a new app

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The RealTimes app offers storage, slideshows, and is aimed at parents

One glance at the RealNetworks logo is all it takes to spark flashbacks to episodes of endless buffering. Even the flatter, more modernized logo brings me back to the sunny afternoons I lost waiting for internet radio stations to load on the company's streaming application. So when I was told the company wanted me to try out a new product last week, you could say I treaded lightly.

The product is an application called RealTimes. It's available today on iOS and Android, but it has very little to do with the streaming legacy that the company is known for. Instead, the company has created its own version of the myriad photo and video management tools found in every app store: a freemium app with different levels of cloud storage, instant backup functionality, and automatically generated slideshows.

RealTimes, like others, collates your photos and video based on timestamp and geolocation. Once that's done, the app selects the best shots while deselecting blurry and duplicate ones, and uses an algorithm to determine the most important parts of your videos. It then adds in some rights-cleared stock music to create these slideshow "stories." If that sounds like a process, it's not — this all happens instantly in the background, and the app can alert you when new stories have been created.

RealTimes demands no extra work; if you like the stories (or "ads of your life," as Max Pellegrini, RealNetworks' president of products and marketing, calls them) you can export the videos or share them in a few taps and be on your way.

But there's a welcome amount of granular control, like the ability to shuffle the pre-determined order, de- or re-activate the photos and videos the app disregarded, apply filters or crop the photos, or adjust the amount of time each moment lasts in the finished product. This extra control is smartly separated, too. Unfussy users won't be overwhelmed, while control freaks like me can easily get under the hood. Even if it's not unique, RealTimes is probably the best-designed product RealNetworks has ever released. The app gets users 80 percent of the way there, CEO Rob Glaser tells me, giving you something "good enough to invite you to finish it, put in the final touches and publish it."

You can use RealTimes for free, and at the most basic level you get 2GB of storage (or 7GB, if you enable auto-backup) as well as the ability to make watermarked stories up to 30 seconds long. At $4.99 per month, or $49.99 per year, you get 25GB of storage and the ability to create stories up to three minutes long with no watermark. And for $9.99 per month, or $99.99 per year, you get unlimited storage and no restrictions on story creation.

RealTimes app

The genius part of RealNetworks' use of the freemium model is that users at the lower levels are given the option to remove the watermark or time restrictions with one-time purchases of just 99 cents — an act that's encouraged by a tiny "x" on the corner of the watermark.

RealTimes won't pave new ground, but the company hopes its name recognition will engender a sense of trust — we are, after all, pretty cavalier in the way we treat our photos and videos. But it's not like consumers are stuck choosing between cloud storage startups. Services like Dropbox and have built enough trust to enter the corporate world, and other services like Flickr have been around for a long time. The stories feature also has competition — Google offers a similar option for free, and Apple could easily add more automated value to its "moments" section of the camera roll.

RealTimes has a few potential advantages, like a surprising amount of speed. Glaser and Pellegrini showed me demos on the iPhone 6, Nexus 6, and iPad, and all were extremely fast. (The same goes for the iOS build I tried over the weekend.) That's mostly because — unless you choose to create stories from images and photos found only in the cloud — all the processing is done locally. The slideshows are always immediately ready to watch, edit, and share, no matter when they were created. The other advantage is ubiquity — RealTimes will be available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, PC, Mac, Fire TV, Roku, Xbox, and more.

RealTimes is getting the company's biggest marketing budget ever

RealTimes isn't an app for Snapchat users, Glaser says, or probably even most people reading this. RealTimes is targeted at busy parents, a lifestyle he's familiar with as a father of twins. But there's more at stake than preserving family memories. According to Glaser, the company is throwing a bigger marketing budget behind RealTimes than the ones afforded to any of the company's previous consumer product launches.

Another benefit of being a legacy internet company is money, and knowing how to spend it. That's probably RealTimes' best shot at success, and the company's best chance of convincing people it made an app that's good enough.