Eric Hoffert was one of the original developers of QuickTime and is now the CTO for Thwapr, so he really understands video. Thwapr provides mobile-to-mobile video sharing -- in other words, it's a way to create a video on your iPhone and share it with friends on a variety of mobile phone platforms. The idea is that you or your recipients don't need to download any special apps, and that the video is shown in its best possible format for the mobile device that receives it.
That's the idea. However, I found the beta of Thwapr somewhat clunky to use, and I'm not sure I really "get" the reason for the service as it is currently set up. To start with, if I want to share a video message or photo with a friend (at least a short one), I can use MMS. If it's a longer video or I want to share it with the world, I'm going to use something like YouTube and send friends a link. I asked Leigh Newsome, Thwapr's VP of User Experience, why I wouldn't just use MMS?
His reply? "MMS is very, very limited - it works poorly cross-phone/cross-carrier, has limited file sizes ~300k, and doesn't store info in the cloud. Thwapr works cross-phone/cross-carrier, with large files, and stores info in the cloud. So, even if your phone gets wiped out, you can still get to your content either from your mobile device or the web."
Eric Hoffert's reply was similar: "Another benefit is that the ThwapBack experience of rich media conversations is (a) accessible across a wide range of mobile phones, more than a hundred and seventy, and (b) is stored in the cloud. MMS conversations are stored on each device."
The way Thwapr works at the current time is that you record a video with the iPhone's camera (it also works on Android phones), then email it from your registered email address to "email@example.com." Once it's there, you go to the thwapr.mobi web site using Mobile Safari, sign in, and the movie is sitting there in an "uploaded Thwapr" folder. You choose a friend or group of friends from a list of registered users, and then you share the movie or picture with them. Within seconds, they receive a text message (standard text message fees apply) with a link in it. They tap the link, which opens Mobile Safari, and they can view the message and even "Thwapback" (reply) to it.
That's the problem with the beta, in my opinion. It just takes too many steps to Thwap somebody. I was able to ask the executive team if they are planning an iPhone app to improve the user experience, and received this reply: "The approach with using email, camera, browser, SMS is targeted to enable many phones across many carriers. We are advanced on an iPhone app that provides a seamless integrated experience for capture and Thwap. We plan to deliver the iPhone app in Q1, please stay tuned and we will keep you posted."
That's good to hear, because I'm not sure I'd use Thwapr in the current form. I do like the ability to see a thread of text, photo, and video replies, but I just don't think that switching between Messages, Camera, and Mobile Safari is the way to get things done efficiently. It's apparent that I'm not the only person who feels this way, since I saw a message from another person involved in the product intro today who said, "Upload, send link, view on mobile browser. Can't this already be done without regard to platform?"
I'll keep my Thwapr account for now, because I think it would be useful to eventually be able to zap longer video messages back and forth quickly and easily. If you're interested in getting in on the beta, point your browser to Thwapr.com to sign up and give it a try.