It won’t arrive in the App Store until next month, but Apple’s already offering up a preview of its new mobile video app. The company is positioning Clips as a halfway mark between iMovie and Memories (the slideshow feature in Camera) in terms of usability, but the Snapchat and Instagram Stories comparisons are going to prove pretty difficult to avoid on this one.
But while Clips operates on similar principles as those insanely popular social media platforms — letting users stitch together short videos and photos into a mini-story — there are a few key distinctions of note.
First, Apple’s not launching a social network. Clips is a standalone app with sharing functionality that delivers it to all of the usual suspects (Facebook, Instagram, etc.). Second, it has the decided advantage of being built atop the company’s substantial expertise when it comes to video and photo editing software, delivering a fairly customizable but user-friendly experience.
Apple would obviously prefer you think of Clips as an entry-level version of its video editing software offerings. If iMovie is the software for those who aren’t ready for Final Cut Pro, then Clips is for those who aren’t ready for iMovie. It requires no video editing knowledge to work. You just need to press and hold a big red “record” button for a few seconds.
Also, unlike the aforementioned software offerings, Clips is the first video editing app the company has created directly for the mobile platform, rather than porting an existing desktop offering over to iOS, which makes for a more intuitive native experience.
And indeed, it’s pretty simple to use, with some additional features buried a bit for those who are a bit more experienced. Though any deeper than that and you should consider yourself graduated to iMovie. In a quick preview of the app, I was able to hit the ground running. From the main screen, you can record a video, shoot a photo or grab something from your library. As with the standard Camera app, there’s also a reverse button, so you can shoot a selfie, if you’re so inclined. Next to that is a large red ovular button labeled “HOLD TO RECORD,” which should be self-explanatory.
The video will record for the length of time the button is held — ditto for still photos, which can be augmented with Ken Burns-style sweeps with a swipe or a zoom. Once recorded, the video or photo will be saved to a small timeline on the bottom of the app. The creation can be previewed and the order of scenes can be swapped down there. Clicking into one scene will also bring up a simple editing function to shorten the clip. The recording limit on each individual scene is 30 seconds, with a one-minute max length for an entire Clip.
At top are a series of options for adding additional touches to the videos, including animated title cards, filters (eight in all, including a few not previously seen on the Photos app) and symbols. Most noteworthy is the Live Titles feature, which auto-generates captions based on the user’s speech, leveraging speech to text technology the company has been building up in iOS. It’s far and away the coolest new piece of technology in the app, and seems to work like a charm.
Also worth mentioning is the Soundtrack feature, which bring dozens of musical beds to the app — or just lets users choose from the music they’ve purchased through iTunes (though not streaming stuff through Apple Music). Oh, and the company even managed to wrangle Hans Zimmer into recording one. Each pre-recorded clip is designed to be looped, so it fits as long or as short as you make your video.
Once the Clip is completed, it can be shared through a bunch of platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo. Apple is also rolling out a new feature for the first time with Clips that recommends Messages friends based on names mentioned in the video (via Live Titles) or specific photos of friends, using, one imagines, some form of facial detections. Other recommendations are just pulled from the people you frequently message.
It feels a bit strange, launching an app like this without its own devoted social network. But it’s easy to see why Apple wouldn’t want to go through the hassle of going down that road. And besides, there’s something to be said for leveraging the prevalence of iOS as a platform without forcing users to adopt a brand new proprietary social network in order to use it. If there’s one thing Google+ has taught us, it’s that even the biggest companies aren’t a shoe-in for the social networking game.
Also of note is the square format. Like Instagram, the app is meant to be used in portrait mode. It’s a move that’s likely to irritate photography purists, but, then, let’s be honest, this app really just isn’t for them. Like Clips itself, the move is a play to appeal to the kind of people who can’t really be bothered to adjust the phone into portrait mode for shooting.
And if LG’s G6 launch taught us anything, it’s that the company may also be using the square format to help hype the launch of a new aspect ratio that’s been rumored for the upcoming iPhone 7. Among LG’s biggest selling points for the new 18:9 screen was the ability to position two square photos next to one another, so perhaps Apple is setting the stage for that release.
Whatever the case, the timing and the standalone release are certainly an unusual play for Apple. It’s tough to come up with a clear precedent at the company for a launch of this kind, rather than baking the functionality into an existing platform like Photos, Messages or even offering it up as an entry-level setting on iMovie.
It’s hard to say precisely what’s behind the unique play for the company, though it’s hard to shake the feeling that Apple is working to lay the groundwork for something larger, be it hardware or software. And certainly it’s easy to imagine pieces like Live Titles and sharing recommendations making an appearance on additional proprietary Apple apps in the near future.
There’s no exact launch date on Clips yet, but it’s set to arrive some time in April. It will be available as a free download for the iPhone 5s and later, the iPad and iPod touch.