French startup Qleek has developed a physical key to access digital content such as music, videos and photos, in a move designed to restore the concept of a personal, hands-on library to our daily lives.

Qleek Brings Back Real-World Physicality to Immaterial Data

Qleek, which has just been through the Paris-based Le Camping incubator, has developed a prototype media support system called the Tapp. A Tapp is a small wooden hexagon that enables you to send content to a screen via a reader connected to your television, with a very simple gesture. The main advantage of the Tapp is not so much the way it works however as the objective. This is, as Johanna Hartzheim, one of Qleek’s three founders puts it, to “[...] restore the material side to our digital data.” It is after all undeniable that, as data increasingly migrates online, personal libraries or collections are becoming an increasingly rare item in our daily lives. Music CDs have almost entirely disappeared, books are going digital, and very expensive video systems tend to become obsolete all too quickly. However, the act of displaying your store of culture and entertainment, whether purely for yourself or for other people to see, is an important means of demonstrating your individual taste. With this in mind, Tapps are designed to provide a physical, visible sign of a person’s interests, while at the same time allowing great flexibility with the actual data.

‘Tapp’ into data content

The way it works is that you simply place one of the small wooden hexagons on the reader and it will display your selected material on the TV screen. Explains Qleek co-founder Pierre-Rudolf Gerlach: “By using contactless technologies, we can keep the notion of physically putting on a CD or a DVD when you place the Tapp, but at the same time the system enables you to access an incomparable mass of online data.” Qleek envisages three different types of Tapps: a blank Tapp on which you can configure your own data – a photo album for instance – plus two types of pre-programmed Tapps. When you go on to the Qleek website, you can obtain Tapps that are a) already linked to a particular type of content, such as a YouTube channel, or b) that provide access to paid-for content, a service which is the company’s long-term goal. Users would thus for instance be able to follow a series, as the episodes are broadcast through a single point of contact. It is precisely in this data flexibility that the key advantage of the Qleek concept lies. A Tapp is not an object that actually contains data, but a sort of secure key which unlocks for the user media content already on the web. Pierre-Rudolf Gerlach underlines that: “The aim is to provide online ‘pure players’ with a physical object as a basis for selling their media content.”

Simple process, physical ‘library’

The hexagonal Tapps can be fitted into a sort of bookshelf in the form of a honeycomb, so that your personal collection can be appraised at a glance. “We wanted to use wood, which is a warm material, to downplay the technical side of data and restore the human factor to media collections,” explains Johanna Hartzheim. Ease of access is another key focus for the Qleek team, as the third founder, Ismail Salhi, stresses: “We wanted to give people who’ve been somewhat left behind by the digital revolution – through lack of time or because of the digital divide – a chance to get into using the Internet, through the most intuitive interface possible.” Tapps, which are based on contactless and automation technologies, are still at the prototype stage, but are expected to be available on the market before end-2014. By on the one hand enabling the user to access data in dynamic mode, and on the other allowing people to take back ownership of their media ‘libraries’, the Qleek brainchild appears to be responding to a dual human need.

By Quentin Capelle