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Humanaut's Felt app launched for the iPhone this month, and the free download lets users upload photos and create custom greeting and Storyframe cards, starting at $3.

FREE FOR CHATTANOOGA

Humanaut is giving Chattanooga residents one free Storyframe creation with promo code CHATTANOOGA at checkout. The promo code includes the cost of printing and shipping the Storyframe card.

Greeting cards by the numbers

6.5 billion: Greeting cards sent by Americans each year

1.6 billion: Greeting cards purchased at Christmas alone, the most popular greeting card event

$7 billion-plus: Retail sales of greeting cards in the U.S. each year

Eat, drink and be merry, because tomorrow the Christmas blitz begins, and there's a lot to do.

For most folks, the ushering in of the holiday season means the year-end sprint is upon us, and there are dinners to bake, gifts to buy, events to attend and Christmas cards to sign, seal and deliver.

But the time required to sign, seal and deliver Christmas cards -- picking out cards, customizing them, buying postage and dropping by the post office or a mail bin -- is precious. And there are so many other digital options to choose from in 2014.

Enter Humanaut, the young Chattanooga innovation firm responsible for Felt, a mobile app that lets users create custom greeting cards and then ship them to a physical location in the mail.

Felt lets users upload photos from their mobile devices and use touch screen technology to hand write notes.

Humanaut launched an iPhone version of its Felt app this month. The app has been available for iPad since June of last year.

Felt is a free download from iTunes and costs as little as $3 to make and send a card.

"We really wanted to kind of reinvent holiday cards," said David Littlejohn, the company's chief creative director.

So far, so good.

With the Felt app, users can write anything they want on a card. Users can also hand write the address and return address for their card's envelope.

Addresses are stored for future use, creating a hand-written address book on your device, an idea that Humanaut believes to be totally new for any app.

And the work is done. Your card prints at a distribution center, where someone puts the card in an envelope, slaps a stamp on it and drops it in the mail.

"You would really have no idea that it wasn't hand-created," said Littlejohn.

With the iPhone launch, Humanaut also just rolled out the Storyframes option, which lets users create a multi-panel, accordion-like card, each panel customizable with borders and photo options and hand-written or typeface notes.

"You really just get to focus on the fun part," said Littlejohn. "It's like a post office in your pocket, literally."

He and others at Humanaut don't believe folks are sending fewer holiday cards because it's gone out of vogue.

"We kind of just don't have time anymore," said Littlejohn.

Jon Moss, owner of Moss Media Labs and member of the Chattanooga Technology Council board of directors, said this week that time is exactly the reason hand-written notes and cards mean more than an email.

"From a business standpoint, some people would say direct mail is dead," said Moss, "but a hand-written note or card is always welcome because nobody does that anymore, do they?"

Moss said marketers realized the appeal of hand-written mail years ago, so many companies employ fake hand writing on mass mail outs.

"If you receive an envelope that appears to be hand-written or hand-addressed, you're more likely to open up that first," he said.

Moss said apps like Felt could be "a novelty for the Millennial generation to send and receive mail."

As for Felt's iPhone launch, the timing is good, as the United States Postal Service estimates that during the Christmas holiday season, 15.5 billion cards, letters and packages get shipped in the U.S.

USPS workers will also make package deliveries seven days a week though Dec. 25 this year.

With that apparent demand for holiday greetings, Humanaut thinkers went to work on a way to simply make it easier and faster to get cards out.

Felt for iPad launched on Father's Day, another popular card-giving holiday. The app has enjoyed success since its introduction, so Humanaut decided to broaden the platform offering this year and include iPhones.

But Humanaut isn't a "huge startup with tons of sales and funding," said Littlejohn in a Facebook post the day Felt for iPhone launched. Consequently, there haven't been massive marketing campaigns to get the word out.

Humanaut is relying, for now, on word-of-mouth advertising and positive user experiences to build the Felt customer base.

The goal, said Littlejohn, for Felt -- named so in the hopes that users make and send heart-felt things -- is that busy people and young people find a new way to continue old customs.

"I've never been someone who sends mail, but I always wanted to be," wrote Littlejohn the day of the iPhone app launch.

Because Chattanooga is Humanaut's home, the company is offering the city's residents one free Storyframe to mail, a $3 value. The price includes a printed Storyframe, an envelope and shipping. The promo code at checkout is CHATTANOOGA.

One Storyframe with envelope and postage is $3, and each additional Storyframe is $1. Users can create up to five connected Storyframes.

Users can save 30 percent on Felt cards by purchasing and using Felt credits in the app. Storyframes for iPad launches on Monday.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.

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