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May 1, 2013 at 4:00 PM

Kinect Accelerator alum Freak’n Genius comes out with animation app — on iOS

The YAKiT app, from Seattle-based startup Freak'n Genius, allows users to animate mouths in photos and to record short messages. (Photo from Freak'n Genius)

The YAKiT app, from Seattle-based startup Freak’n Genius, allows users to animate mouths in photos and to record short messages. (Photo from Freak’n Genius)

Seattle-based Freak’n Genius was one of 11 companies chosen for the inaugural Kinect Accelerator, a Microsoft and TechStars incubation program for startups.

Now, Freak’n Genius is launching its first app — but on Apple’s  iOS rather than any Microsoft platform.

The app, called YAKiT, allows users to place an animated mouth — with a recorded short message — on any photo in their photo library. (Say, if you want to make your cat talk.) The app also allows users to search the Internet or Facebook for photos on which to place the animated mouth. (A demo video of YAKiT is posted below.) The app, which is free, launched Monday in the iTunes App Store.

Freak’n Genius’s original concept for a create-your-own-animation project used Microsoft’s Kinect motion- and voice-sensor. The reasons the company has since decided to move to iOS are at once unique to it but also shed some light on how Microsoft operates.

The Kinect Accelerator program “was awesome,” said Freak’n Genius CEO Kyle Kesterson. “It provided a lot of connections with entrepreneurs, investors and a lot of internal Microsoft teams — teams that we would not have had access to otherwise.”

Toward the end of the program, Freak’n Genius connected with an Xbox team, leading to an opportunity to create for the Xbox. They were targeting a springtime launch for their application.

But several factors led them away from going the Xbox route.

Last fall, they were told a new executive was going to be leading the team within Xbox as part of a reorganization, Kesterson said. The subsequent reshuffling meant the Freak’n Genius program would not be able to launch until fall.  That timeframe would have put Freak’n Genius beyond the money it had raised from angel investors.

In addition, it realized it would have a marketing challenge launching the app on Xbox. Most of the other apps on Xbox are games and cost money. The company’s app, in contrast, was a creation tool and was “free to download, free to play, with in-app purchases — that’s still a newer model” for Xbox, Kesterson said.

“Between those things, it was hard to find where Freak’n Genius would fit within Xbox,” he said.

So the company decided to go mobile instead, choosing iOS as the platform the staff was most familiar with and that had a strong user base.

“The idea is we would start on mobile and fight our way through the noise,” Kesterson said.

Not that Kesterson isn’t still open to the idea of someday building on Kinect. “If the vision is still similar and Microsoft came back around, we’d be more in a position to pick the Kinect up again,” he said.

Here’s a demo video of YAKiT:

 

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