After the success of simple photo- and video-sharing apps like Instagram ($1 billion sale to Facebook) and Snapchat ($15 billion valuation), Hunter Powell is hoping that a more professional approach is the next big thing on mobile phones.
That’s why Powell, CEO of Path 36, acquired video-editing app Splice last September. On Tuesday users will get a new, beefed-up version of Splice, with a collection of bells and whistles aimed at making it a leader among mobile video-editing apps.
Powell and his colleagues are so bullish on Splice’s potential that the update has initiated something of a corporate restructuring. When Splice, which launched in 2010, was acquired last year for an undisclosed sum, it was by Vemory, a photo-sharing app that had only launched a month earlier. Powell was Vemory’s CEO. Path 36 was the name of Splice’s parent company. Post-acquisition, it was chosen as the name of the parent company for both apps.
Splice’s value proposition is that it goes beyond basic on-the-go video creation to allow for the addition of music, sound effects, text, and visual effects. And Splice will eventually incorporate auto-generated slideshow technology from Vemory, which has since shut down in favor of its sibling app.
If it’s surprising that Vemory has been supplanted by the app it acquired, there’s a simple explanation. “Splice is where the users are,” says Hunter Powell in an interview with Fortune. “All our eggs are in Splice now, which was always the plan. I think the technology of Vemory was outstanding, and we still believe in auto-generation. But people just love being able to create their own video. And Splice is the place to do that.”
That affinity is critical because competition in the video app category has heated up in recent years. Splice’s competitors include Magisto, Replay, VideoShot, and other challengers. But the perceived incumbent, with top billing in the “Photo & Video” category of the App Store (after YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat), is iMovie, the mobile version of Apple’s (AAPL) video-editing software first released in 1999. It’s “our closest competitor,” Powell says.
Unlike most of the challengers, iMovie was not always free—in the past, it would run you $4.99, though it is now free on new iOS devices (iPhone 5 and newer). Powell says iMovie “asks for a heavy lift and is very complicated.” In other words, it appeals not to novices but to seasoned video pros concerned with professional presentation. Powell wants Splice to split the difference between lighter fare and iMovie: “I think we have the most powerful, elegant video editor on the planet, but it’s also super easy to use.”
These days, some 2.8 billion photos are uploaded and shared every day globally. “If we can capture even .00001% of that market,” Powell says, “we’ll have a wildly successful application.”
In the new update, Splice includes 100 songs that can be used for free in videos without fear of copyright issues; no advertisements; no limits on video length; title slides that support a range of new fonts and background images; and even a video effect called “Ken Burns,” named for the famed director. (Chalk the latter touch up to Powell’s quirky background, perhaps: The Cambridge-educated philosophy Ph.D published a history book last month, The Crisis of British Protestantism, and was a Baptist pastor in Virginia for over a year on his way to co-founding Vemory.)
Splice has seen downloads in the high tens of millions before today’s update, its maker says, and its user base grew more than 40% in 2014. Powell and the rest of Path 36 hope that the addition of social media sharing features—to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Vine–and new languages (14 in all) will help spark the app’s adoption and help it compete with Apple. “These things are really important,” Powell says. And they won’t cost you a thing. In its play for fast adoption, Splice is even leaving off the standard watermark from its videos—for a limited time.
Correction: This story has been updated from an earlier version, which stated that the iMovie app costs $4.99; in fact, it is now free for iPhone 5 and later.