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Startup cloud app Younity aims to take on iCloud

The new app links together multiple devices so users can search and access files without sticking them in the cloud first.

Screenshot by Donna Tam/CNET

Software startup Entangled Media today released a new app, Younity, that lets iPhone users access all their files from any device without storing files in the cloud. It's like iCloud, which syncs all your Apple devices so you can access the files from any device, but without the syncing or the cloud.

Younity allows devices to communicate with other devices -- both desktop and mobile -- to access files and stream music or videos.

"What we provide is glue," said Entangle Media CEO Erick Caso.

That would be the virtual glue that sticks all your devices together. The app won't make copies of the files on multiple devices and the files don't have to be uploaded into a specific folder.

The cloud-storage space is crowded, but Caso hopes having direct access to files on a mobile device, versus needing to sync to the cloud first, will set younity apart. Another service, Cubby, syncs files across devices and provides cloud storage, but its mobile app can only access files through the cloud.

Caso said he thought of the Younity concept while traveling. If his mother asked him for a photo of his daughter but it hadn't been copied to a cloud folder, he couldn't send it to her. Or, if he wanted to hear a song on iTunes that hadn't been synced to his iPhone yet, he couldn't stream it. He wanted a way to get to those files without having to remember to sync everything first.

Backed by $1 million from investors like PriceGrabber founder Kamran Pourzanjani and founder Brian Lee, the five-person Entagled Media crew developed the technology that Younity runs on.

The application has to be installed on every device to which a user wants constant access. After it's installed, users can search all the devices if they are turned on and connected to the Internet.

Files are pulled from any of the registered devices and work across Windows and Mac operating systems (Younity works with Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8, as well as Mac OS X 10.6, 10.7 and 10.8). This means users can pull a movie or song file from a Windows desktop and play it on an iPhone -- Younity will automatically convert the file. Users can also stream music and videos to Apple-TV or any TV or stereo that uses AirPlay.

Users can also download files if they want and remove them later. In addition, Younity incorporates services like Dropbox and Google Docs, services that allow for sharing and collaboration, something younity doesn't do.

Screenshot by Donna Tam/CNET

Although Caso and CTO Mike Abraham have backgrounds in business technology, he said Younity's first focus is having a simple way to access to personal files. Caso worked at Foundstone, a computer security service acquired by McAfee, and Abraham worked for Jabber, an instant messaging tool acquired by Cisco Systems.

"We think people hate technology," he said, adding that consumers just want a product they can use with ease.

Caso thinks Younity will appeal to people who own at least two computers and one mobile device, and a lot of data. The company surveyed Younity test users and found that they had an average of 1TB of files across all their devices. With the increasing popularity of capturing images and videos, Caso said he thinks that number will increase and the need to access these files easily will grow as well.

"In five to 10 years, this is how computers are going to work, from us or from others," he said.

The ability to tap into files from anywhere without storing a copy in the cloud could appeal to both people who are nervous about using cloud storage due to security concerns and heavy cloud users.

Younity doesn't store any files that it transfers and it can't see what the files are, so any hackers who try to steal the company's data will find only e-mail addresses, Caso said. The service is free for now, but the company is considering the adoption of a freeium model down the road: unlimited use of three to four devices for free, and a fee for additional devices. The Younity app is available only on the iPhone for now, but there are plans for an Android app as well.