Guess I called it.
I just got the email last week that Lyve is shutting down. It started as a somewhat unique proposition around owning your own storage and interface around photos, which eventually had to be sold to a hardware maker — Seagate — to stay afloat, but couldn’t quite make headway in the face of Google and Apple1 jumping onto photo storage and management.
Somewhere a year or two into the initial introduction of Lyve, the company ran into the same problems that virtually all hardware products run into: making a profit on hardware is theoretically possible, but the logistics require scales of economy unavailable to all but the largest hardware manufacturers. Making it to production and sales is just the first step; the hardware must be continually iterated and revised, while the software counterparts race to stay in-sync.
In Lyve’s case, their hard drive + screen box was ahead of its time when it was first built, but was quickly superseded by a number of cloud services that were easier to set up and enjoyed their namesake advantage of being available everywhere on all devices. In particular, Apple and Google form a duopoly in mobile operating systems, and the tight integration there is enough to push almost everyone else out of the market.
They tried to lean more into a photos storage service, but that’s a well-trodden path littered with the skeletons of dead startups. Worse, that veered them away from their initial premise: owning your photos locally was a hedge against online services shutting down. Lyve made online accounts mandatory, and started to keep as much info on their own servers as their Lyve boxes; now that shutdown is imminent, there’s no way to keep a local setup running and backing up photos, and the best they can do is a manual file transfer onto an external hard drive.
The silver lining here may be that while Lyve is yet another photos startup outcompeted by a tech giant, photos have become a core part of smartphones. There’s little risk in Apple and Google renouncing support for their photos capabilities, not while their flagship phones are still trying to one-up one another on their camera hardware. We are still in a much better place in photos management and maintenance than a few years ago, even if Lyve won’t be an option in the future.
And to a lesser extent, Dropbox and Amazon.↩