The arrival of camera phones signaled that we should start taking pictures of everything, and that they all deserved to be shared. Case in point: food porn. We love taking countless pictures of our meals, and we love ‘liking’ them on our feeds. What if there’s something we can do to turn food photography into a profitable endeavor? Enter Photopon, a new iOS app that aims to turn your food snapshots into location-based coupons.
Turning social activities into currency is no longer considered a brand-new concept – the number of services that aim to monetize your social content are certainly on the rise. Still, Photopon is on-target by pinpointing this very shareable niche, one that often comes with a price tag we’d like to get rid of. That sushi dinner was gorgeous, but it was also expensive. What if, for your Instagram of it, that price was cut?
Brad McEvilly – Co-Founder, CEO, and sole developer of the coupon app – says Photopon is actually a more developed version of a business idea he had two years ago. Originally meant to be a service that allowed businesses to set up photo templates for customers to filter their pictures with – instead of posing with an M&M mascot on a visit to the M&M building in Manhattan, you can simplify the process by selecting a pre-made photo overlay that has the mascot already in it – the updated version of Photopon is a lot more practical, honing in on something more people are spending money on and photographing every day.
How it works
In order to use Photopon, you need to log in using your Facebook credentials and allow the necessary permissions – access to your photo library and access to your locations (which is actually an integral factor in getting the app to work).
Once you’re in, the app goes into Camera mode and generates available coupons based on your location, showing you the nearest establishments that have ongoing offers.
You can browse through various templates by swiping left or right. When you find a deal you’re interested in, you take a snapshot related to the deal – ideally a photo of the establishment or a product – and have it be the face of your personalized coupon.
You can keep retaking photos while in Camera mode. Once you are satisfied, you can approve the image and the coupon will appear on your Photopon profile, where you can either pass it on to friends or redeem the offer yourself.
The concept is pretty straightforward – it basically turns your food photos into discounts at your favorite restaurants and stores and adds value to your shots in a way that filters cannot duplicate or even beat.
“[The whole mobile marketing and couponing marketplace is] evolving very rapidly and consumers are growing weary of the daily deals model – it quickly became spammy and is flawed at its core,” explains McEvilly. “Photopon introduces a more spontaneous, organic, more effective (as we’re finding in beta) and efficient solution that both consumers and businesses are excited about. [The app] takes a lot of the need for personal data away from the business and places it in your friends’ hands, because they already know what type of things you like and can limit their offers to the ones you’ll most likely redeem.”
Not surprisingly, Photopon’s most popularly redeemed coupons have to do with happy hour and hot entrée promos. McEvilly says while Photopon is still in its early stages, he’s working on partnerships with establishments that offer these types of deals as part of the company’s penetration strategy before branching out.
Before we dive into the app’s limitations, it’s important to note that for the type of industry Photopon would like to infiltrate, it will take massive networking with consumers and business owners alike, which can be a big obstacle for a new start-up. To be able to provide new users content that’s already usable, Photopon culls offers from 8coupons, a coupon aggregator. As the app gains online traction, however, McEvilly intends to add on offers generated by PayPerSnip, Photopon’s local offer and rewards management tool for businesses that they’ve also developed on the side, which the company intends to release early next month. Already the company has received great interest to integrate from the likes of Starbucks and Budweiser, two brands that will most likely generate a huge following for the app. They’re also in talks with local business owners (in the New Jersey area, where Photopon is based) outside the food industry, the most prominent of which is a franchise owner of Great Clips, the salon chain that has over 300 stores nationwide.
Testing Photopon on the iPad quickly revealed just how barebones the app still is. The first thing I noticed is that it’s very dependent for an actual Internet connection to access local coupon templates. I went to one of the locations indicated in one of the templates so I can snap a photo of the restaurant’s exterior, but found that I couldn’t access the coupon – I had to use my phone (an Android, not an iPhone) as a mobile hotspot to be able to boot up the app and take a photo through the app’s camera.
Understandably, Photopon is hugely location-dependent. It may not work as well as you’d like if you live in the boonies (which I do). I had to travel 30 minutes into town to get near an establishment with a coupon template available.
Photopon’s coupon template does show the name of the establishment and its distance from my current location in miles. However, if you are hoping to click on it to get your bearings through a map, you won’t be able to … yet. McEvilly says he’s currently integrating maps and will be included in the next few updates, so in the mean time, you’ll have to make do with looking up the restaurants you want coupons to through a separate maps app.
One of Photopon’s biggest sells is the idea that you can create a coupon and pass it on to your friends (within the neighborhood, I’m assuming), but according to McEvilly, in order to do that, your friends need to have the app as well.
My first attempt to create a Photopon was a bust – I accidentally shot a picture of my iPad’s case (in short, nothing but black). I kept trying to delete it, only to find out that the option is not available, which might be a big issue for a lot of users.
This led me to another question – what happens if I take a photo of a certain place and use it for a coupon template owned by a different establishment? According to McEvilly, this was a problem in the prototype that they at least partially solved by integrating a rewards system that distributes cash and rewards points to a user each time a friend redeems a coupon they created.
“[Hopefully through this, users] have a direct incentive to create content that is higher in quality and relevant to the templates the business provides them. Otherwise, your friends aren’t as likely to redeem your Photopon and earn you those rewards.” The rewards system is one of the features McEvilly is currently working on for the next update, which will be pushed alongside PayPerSnip’s launch.
At its current state, Photopon doesn’t quite have all the things one might expect from a fully social app, and we totally get why – this is usually the case for apps that only have one programmer at the helm, fixing all the bugs and ensuring that every function works. With a working model of Photopon already out in the Internet wild, McEvilly says his time and efforts have recently been allotted to the development of PayPerSnip, so existing business clients can manage their offer and rewards directly, without the need to connect with Photopon sales reps. Even so, McEvilly has been working non-stop so that most of the basic features users expect are completed as soon as possible.
Photopon definitely has potential – aside from the delete function, all it needs at this point to actually appeal to the photo-sharing masses is the ability to import photos from other social sites (read: Instagram). McEvilly agrees and says the social and viral components that he initially had disabled for development purposes are next on his agenda, especially now that Photopon has a big enough user base.
Another thing the company needs to work on is forging relationships with establishments that people actually want to take photos in. Having large chains like Olive Garden may draw in a big coupon-carting crowd in the beginning, but if Photopon wants to generate good quality coupons, it needs to cater to the demographic of food photographers who only take snapshots of edible masterpieces, usually produced by quaint little bistros and small local businesses only the coolest people know about.
Right now, Photopon is only available for iOS devices, but a version for Android is coming soon.