Mixel for the iPhone is the latest iteration from Lascaux Co., Inc.
Mixel for the Masses by Tim Brown
Mixel for the Masses
In August 2012, the makers of Mixel introduced an iPhone version to replace Mixel for the iPad. Members of the Mixel iPad community were saddened and shocked by this development. People immediately began to feel a sense of loss and abandonment and began extending their connections by forming a blog and other third-party sites to preserve the memories, friendships, and artistic experiences that brought them together as a community. So, what happened to Mixel for the iPad? First, some history.
Mixel for the iPad was an application that was first introduced by Co-founder and CEO Khoi Vinh back in November 2011 with critical acclaim and acceptance. Vinh, former Design Director for the New York Times, designed Mixel for the iPad because he felt there was a void in the art app market. While art apps encouraged creativity and self-expression, the user would eventually begin to feel isolated and uninspired. As Vinh described it, the feeling was akin to what it was like when you were a child when your parents did not hesitate to post your art on the refrigerator and praise your talents to the world - that is, until you grew up and art became more and more of an isolated experience. When Vinh envisioned Mixel for the iPad, he sought to restore that moment in our development when art was socially acceptable. Therefore, when Mixel was introduced as an application for the iPad, it would combine artistic creations with a social dimension, allowing participants to share, exchange, and remix art with friends and a broad online community.
When Vinh introduced Mixel for the iPad, he also sought to capitalize on the revolutionary experience that the iPad provided. With the iPad, the learning curve was greatly reduced, capitalizing on simple finger gestures to cut and rearrange imagery, without requiring artistic training. Vinh chose the medium of collage and photographic imagery because he found it to be more widely embraced. As Vinh once explained:
"But we chose collage for a very important reason: it makes art easy. Photos, the component pieces of every collage, are among the most social and viral content on the Web, and allowing people to combine them into new, highly specific expressions of who they are and what they’re interested in is powerful. Collage also has a wonderfully accessible quality; few people are comfortable with a brush or a drawing implement, but almost everyone is comfortable cutting up images and recombining them in new, expressive, surprising or hilarious ways. We all used to do this as kids."
It should not surprise anyone that Vinh was once an art student, so a lot of his ideas come from is own experience as a student of art. Mixel for the iPad achieved exactly what it set out to do. It inspired hundreds of people to create art, appealing especially to some who may otherwise have languished with the latent feeling that they possessed talent and creativity, but no outlet or community to harness and support such activity. Yet, in spite of its success, the application fell short of its goals.
Mixel for iPad is Abandoned
Ironically the widely accessible platform provided by the iPad was not sufficient enough to reach the critical mass that Vinh and his team had hoped to achieve. On August 12, 2012, the Mixel community received an email from Khoi Vinh stating that the first iteration of Mixel had come to an end. There were several reasons outlined by Vinh for this decision. For one, Mixel required the use of Bing's API, which began to present problems when people could no longer access the online image search. Images could still be populated from other Mixels and from the iPad's library, but not from without. The re-coding that would be necessary to restore this functionality appeared to be too daunting for a small start up company, especially in light of their new plans for an iPhone version of the app. And finally, the main reason was financial. As Khoi explained:
"The Mixel community, as you're no doubt aware, is robust, friendly, energetic, creative and truly wonderful, but in the end it is not as large as it would have to be in order for us to sustain it as a business."
Mixel is Reborn
A week or so after the initial shock that Mixel for the iPad would cease to exist by the early part of September, Mixel for the iPhone was announced. It was embraced enthusiastically by the iPhone community, and positive reviews appeared in the iTunes app store. Mixel for the iPhone, however, is not a smaller version of Mixel for the iPad. Participants are no longer able to remix other mixels, and there is no longer a library of images to access. The user supplies the images and remixes are replaced by "threads." Participants may respond to a mixel by adding a mixel of their own that addresses a similar theme or subject matter (although this is entirely left up to the individual).
Simplicity Replaces Complexity
By removing the image library and the ability to remix other mixels, the developers substituted complexity for simplicity and balanced out the playing field. While Mixel for the iPad opened the field of artistic expression to a wide community of people, it still appeared intimidating to some users, especially when compared to other "Mixelers" who had more artistic background. Ironically, the specialization and exclusivity that the iPad platform was intended to help Mixel overcome was hindered by the applications UI which still enabled some users with advanced levels of artistic ability to create more sophisticated imagery. Since any given mixel could be redesigned by someone else, the shared features could easily become inadvertently competitive. The use of collage was definitely a more inclusive way to creative art (as opposed to painting and drawing tools), but the complex layering effects, combined with the flexibility of scale, cropping, etc.were easily adapted to higher level creations.
Mixel for the iPhone removed some of the customization that was present in Mixel for the iPad, enabling users to take advantage of tools with built-in customization. Rather than arrange images however you want, which can be daunting for some, Mixel for the iPhone provides templates or styles and presets for a wide range of photographic configurations. Like Mixel for the iPad, you click on the + symbol to create a new mixel. The orientation will then change from vertical to horizontal, prompting you to import images from Facebook, Instagram, camera roll, photo stream, photo library or any customized albums you have set up on your iPhone. Once your images have been imported, you have the option to press "style" or "shuffle," The former offers six different styles for arranging your images: Bento, Cereal, Milkshake, Oatmeal, Takeout, and Pepper. The entertaining titles allude to the shape, color, tone, and design of your images. This may appear limiting at first, but each style can be manipulated to form a range of configurations when selecting the "shuffle" option. When you press shuffle, the app will generate what seems to be an infinite number of configurations. Unlike choosing a menu of options, this feature allows for an element of the unexpected, as each configuration offers one surprising arrangment after another. Once your photos are imported, you can pinch and zoom and/or press down to swap the placement of your images.
The central medium that Vinh and the other developers have maintained in this new Mixel variant is the use of photographic imagery (as the headline aptly expresses "Just add your pictures"). Photography is arguably the most common medium that most people use on their portable devices, and the developers have managed to capitalize on that feature in a seamless and creative way. If you like Dyptic and the various other picture frame apps that are available on the market, Mixel for the iPhone takes that concept to a whole new level. If you enjoyed Mixel for the iPad, you may be disappointed by the lack of customization and the smaller screen size, but don't let that deter you. The developers have created another iteration of Mixel that is equally addictive and enjoyable.