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Throw out your scanner, this app makes preserving print photos a snap(shot)

Have you got albums full of print photographs gathering dust? A shoebox of pictorial memories just crying out for attention, but no way to share them without gathering far-flung family members in one room? Heirloom (available for iOS and Android) is an app that will make those photos live again using your smartphone’s camera.

The most effective way to digitally catalog print photos used to require one of the most hated devices ever created, the desktop scanner. But now, this time-consuming and soul destroying task is relegated to the mists of time, thanks to some very impressive technology introduced in Heirloom.

Here’s how it works: Find a print photo, open the app, and snap a picture of it. Heirloom’s clever enough to recognizes the edges, remove everything around it, and even compensate for distortion created by odd angles or perspectives.

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What you’re left with is an almost exact copy of your print picture, and all in just a few seconds, with nothing more than the tap of a button. There’s no need to place the picture in a special environment, align it perfectly, or ensure you remain motionless for minutes at a time while it captures an image. It’s no different to taking any other picture with your phone.

More than a scanner replacement app

“We’re solving a problem millions of people have,” CEO Eric Owski told us, “which is how to simply and easily digitize old photos.” However, Heirloom goes beyond being a scanner replacement app; it’s also a private social network for sharing these revitalized pictures with the people who care about them. “What’s gratifying to people isn’t the scanning, it’s when you get to relive a commonly shared moment,” said Owski.

Heirloom app

The full-resolution, original images are uploaded to Heirloom’s private servers, where they’re stored indefinitely, and can never be lost. Chief Imaging Scientist Willi Geiger, who left his job at Industrial Light & Magic to work on Heirloom, explains how he wanted to avoid the Instagram-style world of small, low-quality pictures being shared online. “I was drawn to Heirloom for two reasons,” Geiger began, “An obsession with image quality, and a passion for story telling. I love the idea of Heirloom being a place where stories can be shared about people’s lives.”

Owski agreed. “The old photos that people will preserve and share have enormous value for the people who helped create them, and we want the private social aspect to be the start of something even bigger and more intimate than the networks that already exist.”

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Continuing on this theme, and on Geiger’s wish for Heirloom to be a tool to tell stories, Owski added, “We don’t see Heirloom as just a photo-management service, we are focused on families and friends sharing memories.”

Is Heirloom for everyone?

When asked whether Heirloom will be of use to people who perhaps don’t personally own print photos, Owski talked about Throwback Thursday, a long-running online phenomenon of sharing nostalgic content with friends, being an inspiration, For this reason, Owski is positive about Heirloom’s launch. “We’re slipping into a stream that’s already flowing,” he says.

Heirloom will also work well for people who may want to digitally catalog albums full of photos, because the edge-finding tech means they don’t have to be removed to photograph again. “We’re now at a point where smartphone cameras can preserve photos at a higher quality than an average desktop scanner,” Owski observed, saying the app makes the whole process easier and faster than it has ever been.

Fast and simple to use

The app is minimalistic in design, with photos collected under Moments, and organized into albums. Shared photos appear under groups, where messages can also be exchanged. Until you actually have a go at capturing a print photo, it’s hard to describe just how fast and accurate the app is. It’s genuinely surprising, and a complete revelation for anyone who has thrown up their hands in frustration while scanning print photos in the past. Pictures can be cropped, rotated, there are a few filters to add, and more editing tools will come soon.

Heirloom app

Almost any smartphone camera could be used to capture great-looking Heirloom photos, but the 5-megapixel iPhone 4S is considered the crossover point, where quality begins to exceed that of a scanner. Heirloom’s photo albums can be viewed inside the app, and on a dedicated website, or shared to other social networks online. There’s no restriction on how many photos can be stored in Heirloom’s cloud servers, and the app is free to download and use.

The team is focused on building the app and its social component for now, and hasn’t finalized its plans for making money through Heirloom, but will introduce non-intrusive, beneficial paid options based around the imaging side next year.