Traditionally, mobile app development involves designers designing in one program, prototyping in another and collaborating in a third.
New startup Play bills itself as the first native iOS product design tool that lets users design, iterate, and collaborate directly from their phones. Legacy software asks for workarounds and hacks in order to accomplish similar tasks, says company CEO Dan LaCivita.
The phone serves as the primary input device for this design tool, he told TechCrunch. Design, prototype, and collaborate from your phone, and it is the only tool that gives designers a chance to experience designs on the device they are using. Playing in Apple’s sandbox doesn’t require any coding.”
The tool allows users to create from scratch, import designs from tools like Figma, and use its Play Library for buttons, cards, and video players, or its Page Layouts for something quick and customizable to create fully functional pages. Furthermore, there are native iOS features like live maps, augmented reality, and camera functionality.
In 2019, LaCivita was founded by Eric Eng, Joon Park, and Michael Ferdman, all of whom previously worked together on a startup called Firstborn, where they created websites and mobile applications.
“We experienced every pain point firsthand,” LaCivita said. He believes there must be a better way. We are still building on traditional graphic design software, so we don’t need another tool, but another approach, like using a phone.
There is a private beta version of Play in the App Store, but it has a waitlist of over 25,000 people. They will be let in over the next few months and into next year. Currently, it is free, but there will be pricing tiers next year.
Oceans Ventures and First Round Capital have contributed $9.1 million to the company today. Earlier this year and last year’s seed rounds will be combined in this round.
LaCivita said the funding will be used to scale the team and continue to develop new products, like Play for iPad, which was a direct request from customers, two weeks ago. Additionally, it recently unveiled Teams, which allows people to work together.
LaCivita said the founders didn’t intend to raise money and were simply meeting Todd Jackson from First Round Capital to see if the relationship clicked, but they soon found a partner who was a much better teammate than a venture capitalist.
Play was discovered by Jackson on Twitter. He worked with designers experiencing the same usability issues at Dropbox and Facebook.
He sent Play to some of his friends who worked for hours on the design and added animations that were only available on the desktop.
“I never thought you could do this much on a phone,” he said. It could be said that people have a mental model that believes that there is only one design tool that does one thing. Often, we talk about how mobile product ideas don’t see the light of day due to the inability to share them. Play solves that problem.”