By Marina Romanova
Mail.ru, Russia’s leading LSE-listed Internet company, said Tuesday it had “became an investor in Prisma”, Russian and international media quoted Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, the owner of the firm, as saying. The news came out just over a week the new app hit the market. Mail.Ru reportedly bought a 10 percent stake amounts to US$2 million. The investment went through My.com, Mail.ru Silicon Valley-based subsidiary launched in 2013.
Gagarin Capital, a California-based fund with Russian roots, and XBT, an international Internet hosting company also reported to participate in Mail.ru investment.
Prisma, the new iOS photo art app, was gone viral in post-Soviet states, including Russia, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan the days after launch but has already garnered some 1.6 million downloads.
Prisma is a mobile iOS app which restyles photos as works of art. The app description says it uses “a neutral network and artificial intelligence” to “repaints” your photos in the style of French impressionists like Van Gogh and Degas, or Russian pioneer of abstract modern art Wassily Kandinsky. Prisma also can repaint your photos in other “world famous ornaments and patterns.” The transformation happens instantly – on WiFi processing takes a second or two to apply the effect.
“We are inspired by the fantastic success of this app conquering the world so rapidly with its beautifully simple idea and unprecedentedly fast technology. We will continue to invest in this perspective trend further,” Dmitry Grishin, Mail.Ru chairman, said in the company statement.
Unlike many other photo apps, Prisma doesn’t simply slap a filter on top. Instead, it completely reinterprets the images using a deep learning method known as convolutional neural networks. It uses the original image only for general guidance, explains Bloomberg.
Although the approach is not new: it is roughly the same as those of DeepArt.io, based in Germany, and Ostagram, a Russian project created by Sergey Morugin, according to the VentureBeat, technology innovation news web source.
Just in one week Prisma became number one Apple’s App Store in Russia and several neighboring countries ahead of Whatsapp, VK, Instagram, Viber, Aliexpress and other traditional leaders in the region, according to AppAnnie data, quoted by East-West Digital News. But the biggest splash it made in Russia, where company is based.
The new app was launched by a Russian programmer, Alexey Moiseenkov, CEO and Founder at Prisma Labs Inc., who was product manager at Mail.ru Group before he launched Prisma. Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University graduate, also worked at other Russian firms like Yandex.ru and Le-Dantu.ru, and now lives and work in Moscow.
In Moiseenkov words, Russian-speaking part of the globe is Prisma’s “pet market”. “We didn’t do any marketing or PR activity here. It just went viral. I believe it will be the same in other countries but a little bit later. Of course we have some cool features ready to match cultural fit,” he told East-West Digital News while added that “there are a lot of ways to monetize the app while keeping it free for users.”
“For one day, the first day of launch, we create about 30,000 photos in Instagram. And it was like in a boom! And after this day the hashtag was ours,” Russian programmer to the TechCrunch.
Moiseenkov has said to Phys.org that the app took only 1.5 months to develop.
The Prisma iOS app is a free download. Though the company already got “a lot of enquiries from big companies” allegedly to sponsor some of the app filters, Moiseenkov said reporters without specifying firms names.
An Android version of the app is scheduled for release in July 2016.
Mobile phones sales in Russia in the first quarter dropped by 2 percent year-on-year to 8.2 million devices, according to J’son & Partners Consulting study. Though, smartphone sales went up by 7 percent and totaled to around 5.8 million units from January to March, Russian mobile retail chain Svyaznoy says. Another mobile operator Megafon estimates the market grew by 6 percent with Apple smartphone leading sales in Q1, followed by LG, Asus and Lenovo.