Nowadays most people own a multitude of devices capable of displaying photos and playing music and video. But these gadgets are often made by different manufacturers, run different operating systems, and don’t communicate well with each other. A startup called Libox, which launched yesterday, hopes to solve this problem by offering a service that makes it easy for a user to access photos, video, and music from almost any Web-connected device.
Founder Erez Pilosof says he started Libox, based in Tel Aviv, Israel, after thinking about his biggest annoyances as a consumer. Managing media and sharing it “seemed very limited and tedious and problematic,” he says. Pilosof wanted to build a service that provided a consistent experience no matter how a user wanted to access her media.
Libox allows users to sync and share media through its desktop applications and a Web application that can be accessed from a browser. The Web application uses HTML, a Web technology that can be accessed by Apple’s iPhone and iPad, as well as Android smart phones and a variety of other mobile devices. Within a few months, Libox plans to launch native mobile applications optimized specifically for the iPhone, Android, and the iPad.
To use the basic service, which is free, a user has to install Libox’s software on a desktop machine. This software finds and processes all media files on the machine and processes new ones when the user loads them. Unlike many other syncing services, Libox does not move users’ data to its own servers. Instead, the company uses peer-to-peer sharing algorithms to distribute data across a user’s devices. For example, when a user accesses a song from a smart phone, Libox might stream that song to the phone from the user’s desktop machine.
Algorithms that attempt to predict what content a user wants to access help the architecture work smoothly, says Pilosof. Those algorithms might detect that a user has been listening to five songs a great deal then store those songs locally on the user’s smart phone to make them easier to access.
Libox users can also share media with each other. The technology then functions in much the way it does when syncing between multiple devices owned by one user, and the company’s algorithms again try to predict how best to distribute content. If a friend tends to access shared photos right away, Libox will prioritize transferring those files as soon as they’re available.
Libox is designed to handle high-definition video and audio files, and Pilosof says the software can handle all major digital media formats, along with many that are less well-known. Although the basic service is free, the company plans to make money by making revenue sharing deals with content providers interested in using its technology to deliver content to users and to provide extra services, such as backup plans.
Libox isn’t the only company thinking about syncing content across devices. Apple offers MobileMe, which helps users sync content across a variety of Apple products. And at its recent developer conference, Google previewed technology that will allow users to stream music from a desktop computer to an Android phone.
Most users are familiar with syncing one device, such as an iPod or iPhone, to a desktop computer, says Michael Cote, an analyst with the research firm RedMonk. But Cote adds that Google and other companies could bring about a broader way of syncing content–one that allows users to store media easily on multiple devices.
But Libox may face legal problems if the entertainment industry takes exception to the way it could allow sharing of copyrighted material. The music industry has historically been suspicious of services that let consumers share music files, and Sonal Gandhi, an analyst with Forrester Research who covers media and entertainment, says that record labels have sometimes issued legal challenges to such services.
Other experts expect that consumers will have a lot of need for services that help them organize and access their data no matter where they are. “It’ll be a multiple-device world for a very long time,” says Kevin Burden, head of ABI Research’s mobile-devices group. But Burden foresees an even more serious potential roadblock than the music industry: the likely end of unlimited data plans for mobile devices. “This is going to get people thinking long and hard about what they pull down over the air,” Burden says, and this could make syncing services like Libox less useful.