PhotoRoom automagically removes background from your photo

Meet PhotoRoom, a French startup that has been working on a utility photography mobile app. The concept is extremely simple, which is probably the reason why it has attracted a ton of downloads over the past few months.

After selecting a photo, PhotoRoom removes the background from that photo and lets you select another background. When you’re done tweaking your photo, you can save the photo and open it in another app.

“My original vision comes from my time when I was working at GoPro,” co-founder and CEO Matthieu Rouif told me. “I often had to remove the background from images and when the designer was out of office, I would spend a ton of time doing it manually.”

And it turns out many people have been looking for a simple app that lets them go in and out as quickly as possible with an edited photo in their camera roll.

For instance, people selling clothes and other items on peer-to-peer e-commerce platforms have been using PhotoRoom to improve their photos. PhotoRoom is often recommended in online discussions or YouTube tutorials about optimizing your Poshmark or Depop listings.

Downloads really started to take off around February. PhotoRoom now has 300,000 monthly active users. The app is only available on iOS for now. And if you’re a professional using it regularly, you can pay for a subscription ($9.49 per month or $46.99 per year) to remove the watermark and unlock more features.

“Subscriptions are what works best on mobile for photo and video apps,” Rouif said.

Behind the scene, PhotoRoom uses machine learning models to identify objects on a photo. And the vision goes beyond removing backgrounds.

Photoshop, the clear leader in photo editing, was designed decades ago. There’s a steep learning curve if you want to use it professionally. It’s hard to understand layers, layer masks, channels, etc.

PhotoRoom wants to build a mobile-first photo-editing app that doesn’t lazily borrow Photoshop’s metaphors and interface elements. “What would be Photoshop if you could understand what’s on the photo,” Rouif said.

While the app relies heavily on templates, you can tweak your images by adding objects, moving them around, adding some shadow and editing elements individually. Image composition is 100% up to the user.

Like VSCO, Darkroom, PicsArt, Filmic Pro and Halide, PhotoRoom belongs to a group of prosumer apps that are tackling photo and video editing from different ways. A generation of users who grew up using visual social networks are now pushing the limits of those apps — they look simple when you first use them, but they offer a ton of depth when you learn what you can do with them. And they prove that smartphones can be great computers, beyond content consumption.

Rouif was the head of product at Stupeflix, a powerful video editing app that was acquired by GoPro back in 2016. PhotoRoom is just getting started as there are only four people working on the app, including two interns.

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