And that’s where sixteen-year-old Canzhi Ye comes in.
By Ian Panchèvre
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
With more than 91 percent of smartphone owners taking a mobile photo at least once a month, it’s no secret that as the Internet continues to shift towards mobile, so does consumer photography.
One San Antonio entrepreneur, Jim Drought III, recognized this trend and spotted an opportunity. However, rather than jumping into a noisy market with the next “revolutionary” photo-sharing app, Drought wanted to cater to a growing population of casual, mobile photographers with a printing service.
It was a natural connection for Drought, the owner of Signs of San Antonio, a local print shop, to make.
“We live in an increasingly mobile world and I started to think that we could ship prints anywhere. Instead of being geographically limited to San Antonio, an app could give us a broader reach,” noted Drought.
Moreover, advances in mobile cameras have allowed for higher photo and print quality. For example, the iPhone 4 carries a 5-megapixel rear camera, whereas the iPhone 5 boasts an 8-megapixel rear camera. Looking towards the future, many iPhone speculators predict a 12-megapixel camera on the device’s next generation.
Accordingly, “the resolution is getting larger and larger which translates to larger and larger prints,” explains Drought.
Excited about the prospects of an app that would allow users to order large prints of their mobile photos, Drought was less eager to fork out tens of thousands of dollars for development, or even worse, work with an unreliable contractor.
“I was less inclined to hire someone and more inclined to form a partnership,” continues Drought.
Ye is a junior at Reagan High School. He’s on the swim team, plays piano in the orchestra, competes in academic trivia contests… Oh, and he also makes iPhone apps.
Ye became interested in mobile development at the age of thirteen, when his mother bought an iPod Touch. Ye was fascinated by the apps and, with the help of books and online resources, challenged himself to build a few of them.
Ye’s first app, A+ FlashCards, allows users to create flashcard quizzes for studying. His second app, Easy Typing, offers a larger keyboard to help those that struggle with the size of the iPhone’s native keyboard.
Then tragedy struck.
When Ye was fourteen a major earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown rocked Japan, where Ye lived when he was younger.
“I decided I could help by donating some of the money from my app proceeds to the relief effort,” explains Ye.
After raising nearly $500 for the Red Cross, Ye was dubbed a “software whiz kid” when his generosity caught the attention of the San Antonio Express-News.
A year later, Ye received an unexpected email from Drought.
Drought found the Express-News article and wanted to pitch his concept to Ye, in hopes that the two could form a partnership. Ye was interested and he agreed to a meeting at Signs of San Antonio.
Comically, Ye’s father had to drop his son off at his first business meeting. Ye had just turned sixteen and had not yet received his drivers license.
Shortly thereafter, the two founded Rectangle LLC, which owns Rectangle App and in turn contracts Signs of San Antonio for its printing services.
After months of development, Rectangle for iPhone soft-launched on April 2, 2013.
Rectangle allows users to upload photos from either their iPhone’s camera reel or Instagram. A simple and friendly interface makes it easy for users to then order large prints – ranging from 9”x12” to 24”x32” – or Pictoblocks – acrylic blocks with a photo mounted on the back.
The end result? Your mobile photos are printed on premium, glossy photographic paper and then delivered straight to your home. Unlike other printing-oriented applications, Rectangle specializes in large prints. Moreover, “the entire process for placing an order is done through the app,” notes Ye.
To build Rectangle, Ye had to overcome unfamiliar technical challenges such as file uploading and payment processing.
Ye also baked some nifty intelligence into the app. Rectangle automatically checks the photo’s resolution to guarantee that the prints will be high quality. If your photos were taken on an older iPhone or have been cropped down, the app will restrict the available sizes to print at a sufficient resolution.
Since its initial release, Rectangle has processed more than 100 print orders.
Ye explains that the soft-launch period has allowed Rectangle to test the entire process for “receiving the order, processing, printing and shipping it out.” And with the recent release of version 1.0.2, Rectangle is now ready to actively market the application.
Moving forward, Rectangle plans on releasing a series of updates that will introduce Facebook integration, panoramic prints, and other print options such as decals.
Rectangle is also considering developing an Android app and is exploring potential uses of the technology in corporate settings.
Rectangle is available for free download in the iPhone App store.