Isabella Products To Add Wireless USB and Children’s Tablet Device to Better Connect Families

1/20/11Follow @xconomy

[Corrected 1/20/11, 3:40 pm. See below.] Last spring, Isabella Products unleashed a two-way connected digital photo frame powered by a cellular modem. It was an attempt to modernize a product that’s basically remained the same over the last decade or so, taking the technology into the world of constant wireless connectivity that we’ve come to enjoy over the past few years. Its Vizit digital photo frame allows users to wirelessly download photo content from a digital media repository on the Internet. Friends and family can send photos directly to the Vizit owner’s user account to regularly update content on the 10.4-inch digital frame, which also allows users to e-mail content out. [An earlier version of this paragraph mistakenly noted that the Vizit launched in October 2009. We regret the error.]

Now the Concord, MA-based company is trying to bring a similar experience to owners of more archaic digital photo frames who might not be ready to ditch their devices and shell out the $229.99 for the Vizit. The Mini, which founder and CEO Matthew Growney likens to an electronic “parasite,” is a USB device that plugs into existing digital frames, for the same access to Vizitme.com‘s cloud-powered photo repository.

The big idea for the Vizit, and now the Mini (which will hit the market in May and will be ready for pre-order in about a month), is that relatives like Grandma who previously felt distant from their families can feel closer by regularly receiving photos of wee ones as they grow. “We’re about trying to connect things that are unconnected,” whether it’s people or devices, says Growney. The Mini, which Isabella introduced earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and will sell for about $99, includes a 1-year subscription to the photo-sharing service.

Between 15 million and 20 million digital photo frames have been sold since around 2002, and it’s estimated that 80 percent to 90 percent of them remain unconnected, Growney says. “[The Mini] certainly does provide us with an enormously large existing market, which hasn’t seen much innovation until the Vizit,” he says.

But Isabella is also looking to open up another key aspect of its business, its photo sharing service, to a broader base. “We manage data and offer great experiences in photo sharing, content sharing, family communications,” Growney says.

The company currently has about 1,000 subscribers for that service, but Growney is hoping that blow that number up by a factor of 5 to 10 over the next year across its entire product portfolio, which will also include its other new gadget, the Fable.

The Fable is a 7-inch tablet device for kids. The gadget will use Google’s Android mobile operating system as a “control layer,” and will feature applications for reading, drawing, playing games, and (of course) sharing photos. Isabella is looking to ship that device in the fourth quarter of this year, Growney says.

“Like with Vizit, we’re about sharing,” Growney says. “For the first time, a child is presented with the opportunity to create his or her own content, and send it to other devices.”

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