Google Dumps Bump — and With It, the Dream of Dead Simple, Cross Platform File Transfers

When neat little apps get bought by big companies, they die.

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If a great big web company such as Google or Facebook buys a startup that’s captured the world’s imagination — such as YouTube or Instagram — it sometimes works out O.K. But if the startup in question is anything less than a massive hit, acquisition is often (and maybe usually) followed by termination.

That’s what’s happening with Bump, makers of the clever, super-simple app for sharing photos and other files among iPhones, Android devices and PCs. In September, Google acquired the company — which also makes a group photo-sharing app called Flock — for a reported $30 million. And as of January 31, Bump and Flock will disappear from Apple’s and Google’s app stores, and will cease to function.

Which means that Bump has suffered the five steps of Google-acquired startup death I’ve had occasion to write about before, though they were spread out over three months:

1. Announcement of thrilling acquisition

2. Reiteration of startup’s wildly ambitious founding notion

3. Explanation that either Google or Facebook is the best place to change the world

4. Acknowledgement (or sometimes non-acknowledgement) that the startup’s product is being discontinued or is going into limbo

5. Expression of heartfelt gratitude to various supporters, usually including the consumers who are losing something they liked

Bump — which let you swap stuff between devices by simply tapping them together — made a splash as one of the iPhone’s earliest defining apps, and had millions of users. I’ve written about it several times (such as here and here) and chatted with its founders, David Lieb and Jake Mintz, who are both smart, ambitious guys.

It never quite became a phenomenon, though. And so Google, which thinks in terms of hundreds of millions or billions of users, was unlikely to give it any love; what the acquisition was about was the talent of Bump’s team rather than the product that team had created.

In the years since Bump appeared, features reminiscent of it have been built into devices, such as Apple’s AirDrop and the NFC-powered photo sharing that Samsung adds to its Android phones. That makes sense: Really, super-easy file transfer should be part of every mobile operating system, and not a stand-alone third-party app a la Bump.

But you know what? In some ways, Bump remains superior to anything an operating system developer or phone maker has built. AirDrop only works with Apple devices; Samsung’s feature only works with Samsung ones. What we really need is the industry to come up with a Bump-like standard that lets you exchange stuff with friends without worrying about who made their phones.

I’m pessimistic about that happening anytime soon. With the exception of HTML5 web technologies, mobile device companies show virtually no interest in working together on software that makes their products compatible with each other. So I’ll miss Bump — and will wonder about what might have been.