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Mobile Apps

MyRoll brings brains to smartphone photo albums

Using smart algorithms that parse and organize your photo library, MyRoll is less a storage destination and more of an improved way to experience your memories.

Screenshot by Nick Statt/CNET

We often drown in a sea of our own smartphone photos. Just take a look at the staggering statistics from photo-loving social networks. Snapchat sees more than 700 million snaps sent on its ephemeral messaging network a day -- and that metric was earlier this year, before it introduced real-time communication. That's not to mention Instagram and Facebook uploads.

The result: a photo library of great shots, and not-so-great shots you'd rather not sift through.

That's why Ron Levy, CEO of Tel-Aviv-based MyRoll, designed what he felt was an ideal library experience. It's one that intelligently automates the creation of photo galleries using a number of behind-the-scenes qualifications such as time, location, and viewing history.

"We looked at this world of apps and we saw native apps are slowly being replaced and reinvented -- WhatsApp, Waze, Evernote," Levy said in an interview with CNET. "But we saw that the gallery itself, the camera roll, remains a very basic place and not a very intelligent experience."

MyRoll launched Thursday for iOS and Android for free. The app's prior incarnation was Flayvr, a similar photo-organizing app with more than 2 million users. Levy, MyRoll CTO Adi Ashkenazi, and their team of eight others rebranded the app into a full-blown company with the aim of creating a multidevice platform around supplanting the default smartphone photo gallery. Just three months ago, the company received $2 million in funding to make the shift, mostly from local Israeli investors.

"It's kind of like renaming your child when you rebrand a company," Levi joked. "The reason we chose MyRoll is to make sure that it's a place for your photos and it's a very personal place. It's not another social network."

MyRoll is more personalized than Flayvr was, taking into account more contextual information to better create galleries that leave out the forgettable photos. Levi even showed off an in-house tool the team uses that scores each photo based not only on its independent characteristics -- features like whether there's a face prominently displayed and if it's blurry or sharp -- but also information it learns about you.

"It's not very deterministic like one or zero. It's getting into a pool of building your profile," Levi said. "That's why time also matters on one hand, and on the other hand we learn in general what users like and what's important for them."

In other words, the app will try to understand which kinds of photos you prefer based on how you scroll on a daily basis, as well as which galleries you decide to hide and which photos you omit. The app will also know if you're far away from where you usually take photos when you're currently taking shots, meaning those will be given more prominence and grouped together into a gallery automatically named and dated using geolocation information. The team is considering a method for bringing this information to users in a way that could empower them to take better photos.

MyRoll does have a few roadblocks in its way to default-gallery status. For one, there's no cloud component, meaning MyRoll pulls photos only from the gallery stored directly on your phone. A number of new apps and auto-upload services, some from established players like Dropbox and Google, are trying to do away with the native gallery concept altogether by moving every photo you take online so you can delete the originals and save space on your device.

For instance, Dropbox's Carousel app -- as well as Yahoo's and Google's auto-upload feature built into the Flickr and Google+ apps -- automatically move every photo you take to your respective online account. Those services then keep low-resolution thumbnails on your device that you can scroll through on the go.

"Definitely in the future, we're looking into the cloud opportunities as well," Levi.

But even Dropbox' Carousel has its issues. It's limited by how much Dropbox storage you're willing to pay for. And though Google and Yahoo are quite liberal with the amount of space they've begun handing users for free, both their products have less-than-stellar interfaces that require more maintenance and cleanup work than their cloud-based promise would like you to believe.

The team behind MyRoll is hoping it can win over users with the aesthetics of its interface and the beauty of its algorithms before it tries to tackle the quandary that is cloud-based photo storage.