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Apple’s New Clips app Makes Videos for Social

Apple wants in on social video sharing — just not with its own social network.

The company just announced a new Apple-made app called Clips, which borrows features from Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, Prisma, iMovie, and Qwiki (remember that one?), and puts them all into a video-making mobile app that’s completely separate from Apple’s core camera app on iPhone and iPad.

It’s been long overdue, and also, long-in-the-works: it was first reported last summer that this kind of app was being developed, with Apple looking for ways to up the value of its existing iPhone hardware while simultaneously developing technology that could be enhanced by new cameras or sensors down the line. It’s still not a social network all by itself, but the Clips app shows that Apple is eager to remain a part of the conversation — and people’s workflows — around social sharing apps.

The Clips app has a simple photo- and video-capture interface, but has a surprising number of features, some that feel borrowed and others that are new and Apple-y. The main page of the app has a capture screen (square, like Instagram), with Photo, Video, and Library options below it. At the top, there are four options for styling or customizing the video: Live Titles, Filters, Overlays, and Posters. And at the very bottom of the screen there’s a timeline, because while you can technically shoot single photos or videos with Clips, Apple has designed it in a way that encourages stringing together a sequence of clips.

Live Titles are one of the most interesting features of the Clips app, because I don’t know of any other social video apps that have this. It’s a way of adding text over still photos and videos using your voice. This means you don’t have to type in the text overlay; you can tap the Live Title option, choose a style, and then record your voice while the app translates that to text. It will do this in 36 different languages, too. The result is a kind of rolling captioning over your Clips videos.

That said, in my brief experience using Clips yesterday afternoon in an Apple cafeteria, the Live Titles were the most unintuitive aspect of the app. Like the other features in the app, you can add the titles while you’re shooting or after the fact to a prerecorded video; but figuring out which thing to tap to add and remove Live Titles, add your actual voice plus text, mute your voice but keep the text, etc., tripped me up.

Another downside is that you can’t scribble text over your Clips like you would in Snapchat or Instagram. Yup: you can scribble things on a tiny 38mm Apple Watch using your finger, but you can’t do that in the Clips app for iPhone and iPad, at least not yet.

While you can save and share your Clips videos to any app, there is, not surprisingly, some optimization if you share them to iMessage. Apple is rolling out something called Smart Suggestions for the first time, which means the app will suggest people you might want to share to in iMessage based on the same facial recognition software used in Apple’s Photos app. So if I make a Clips video featuring Dieter Bohn, Casey Newton, and Natt Garun, and all of those people are on iMessage, the app will automatically suggest I share to those contacts first.

Another nice feature: Clips will let you shoot or upload single video clips up to 30 minutes long, and the final video’s total run time can go up to 60 minutes. There’s also an option for full-screen, text-based graphics cards called Posters, which let you create bookends to your videos or even “How To” title cards in between shots.

But other features are not all that new, including: adding filters, basic text, contextual elements like location or time of day, emoji, and iTunes music tracks. Stringing together a series of photos or video clips into a timeline is also not new. And in what perhaps is the most egregious “borrow” on Apple’s part: one of Apple’s newest filters in Clips bears a striking resemblance to the effects of the Prisma app. (Although in Clips, you can add this filter live as you shoot video; it’s not processing after the fact.)

The Clip app will come out sometime in April, and will be free. It’s also only available to iOS users.

While Apple continues to make some of the best hardware in consumer tech, the company has stumbled hard when it comes to the inherently social aspects of software. It tried unsuccessfully to make a social network out of music in 2010, and again more recently with the short-lived “Connect” feature in the Music app. Its core messaging app, while arguably a social network of its own, limits its best features to Apple users; while messaging apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger have grabbed a significant portion of the messaging market, either because of their accessibility or because of their fun filters and 24-hour story features.

The thing is, Clips still isn’t a social video app, because the videos aren’t hosted in the cloud and blasted out publicly or semi-privately. There are no ads. The videos can be long, they’re stored locally on the phone, and from there, they’re uploaded (in HD) to other third-party apps, from Instagram to YouTube to Twitter to Tumblr. You can send through Snapchat and others, too, but you’ll have to save the video locally first. You’re also not messaging through the Clips app.

On the one hand, this is a much more private way to share video. And Apple, more than any other consumer tech company, still emphasizes privacy. This is a good thing for people who don’t love the idea of Snapchat’s ephemerality. But Apple is also the king of vertical integration, and this ultimately is an app that shares to other apps, not its own built-in network.

There are many other remaining questions about the Clips app, some of which will be hard to answer until we have the chance to use it more. Such as: why didn’t Apple add these features to the default app? Is this a natural precursor to some version of consumer-friendly AR technology that Apple plans to announce? Will it ever come to Android? Is this the “social” app Apple needs? Will people actually start using “Clip” to describe using an Apple app, i.e., “I Clipped it”?

My best guess is because the default camera app is still something that’s supposed to be super simplistic (and accessible from the lock screen). And I think in some ways, this is a precursor to a consumer AR app, but Apple declined to answer questions around that. Clips seems like it could be the perfect app to use when iMovie is too much and the default camera app is not enough. The question is whether it will be the necessary stop between your phone’s camera and your favorite social network.

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