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Shutterfly's TripPix Photo Book App Is Aimed at Millennials

The new app might entice millennials to create photo books without doing much work.

K. Quin Paek for Re/code

Remember the coffee-table photo book?

They were once the slam-dunk gift for Father’s Day or other Hallmark holidays, but today you’ll be hard-pressed to find a millennial who has made one. Younger consumers rely on smartphones rather than point-and-shoot cameras, and rarely sit down at a PC for a long enough time to gather and edit a book of images.

But Shutterfly is betting that millennials do want to make photo books — as long as they get to show off their memories and adventures with minimal effort.

Earlier this month, Shutterfly introduced its TripPix app in Apple’s App Store. (An Android version is in the works.) The free app, which is almost completely disassociated from the Shutterfly brand, makes a $20, 6×6-inch photo book in one sitting; in fact, it won’t even save a book that you start making, stop making and try to open again later. And to really move you along, it doesn’t let you rearrange or edit photos at all.

A finished TripPix book arrives in the mail in five to eight business days, and comes with a little stand made of bamboo wood — my favorite feature — so that it can be displayed on a table like a framed photo.

This book-making app uses screen taps and swipes to glean information from you and your photos, quickly creating a short story. This is a change from the $2.99 GrooveBook (also owned by Shutterfly) or the $30 Mosaic, which I reviewed here; both of those alternatives simply group a bunch of potentially disassociated, captionless photos into one book. And compared to those apps, the experience of making a book with TripPix is more playful and enjoyable.

In some ways, TripPix feels a little like Google Stories, if Google Stories created a physical artifact.

The TripPix title page displays the name of your trip, and lists your fellow wanderers, weather, places visited, activities, trip time and distance traveled. Each photo has a caption that includes its timestamp and date. Maps of where you captured the photos are interspersed throughout the book. Playful icons are sprinkled on pages, and each book has a few full-bleed pages with sayings like, “Eat Well. Travel Often.”

K. Quin Paek

Many of the story details in each book are automatically generated from data associated with each photo, as long as the photo was shot on a phone. (Images that aren’t geotagged aren’t usable in TripPix books.)

So what’s not to like?

Some of the data TripPix automatically generates in your book feels out of place. For example, a book I made called “Easter Weekend in DC” had a map in it with the caption, “Day 1: highest elevation 37 ft.” I like seeing maps of places I visited, but each map in the book lists the location’s highest elevation — and there’s no way you can delete this. Elevation might be a fun factoid to add if a trip involved skiing or climbing mountains, but listing the elevation of the Foggy Bottom area of Washington, D.C. — a former swampland — was a lot less impressive.

Another thing that irked me about TripPix was the process of gathering photos for my book. The app’s first step is to select 15 to 30 photos, which was easy enough when said photos were recent and appeared at the top of my list. But when I wanted to scroll back a few months through a long list of images, the app froze up on me.

And I couldn’t pull in shots from other sources like Facebook or Instagram. I didn’t mind this too much, but I’m pretty sure that the Instagram omission would frustrate my 18-year-old cousin, or any other Instagram fan.

Start to finish, TripPix walks you through 10 steps to build and order your book. Depending on how much tweaking you want to do, this can take between five minutes and a half hour.

One app screen showed a list of images and suggested location maps that were associated with the images. Here, I could select whether or not I wanted to show maps with my photos, and could then edit the map to zoom in or out on a specific spot.

The following app screens let me select icons to represent my trip’s weather, highlights of what we did — like a deck of cards that meant “casino” and a fish to represent “aquarium” — modes of transit and things we ate or drank. These data points are used in the book’s title page or on the last page of the book, where 25 trip-related icons appear.

Before you tap “Order it” on the last screen, the app shifts to landscape view and shows you a final version of your book. You can swipe to page through each page, but here’s where things can get frustrating: You can’t rearrange or edit anything.

This was a deliberate decision on Shutterfly’s part — it didn’t want people getting bogged down in the editing or rearranging of photos. I get it: I’ve abandoned many photo books over the years due to what I’d describe as Overly-Exhausting Editing Syndrome.

Still, I would’ve liked to have the option to do some simple edits, like moving one photo to appear before another, or deleting the highest-elevation captions that appeared with maps.

Shutterfly eventually plans to take TripPix beyond simple photo books and use data from you and your smartphone photos to do even more. For example, if this app knew your baby’s birthdate, it could remind you to take a photo of your baby at certain milestone ages, like the six-month mark. Busy parents like me appreciate nudges like this.

TripPix brings abbreviated storytelling back to the photo book — without all the work. And its playful format stands a good chance of resonating with a generation that never used photo books in the past.

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