Using Google’s Motion Stills with Live Photos

image03Earlier this week, Google released Motion Stills, a free iPhone app that exports the video from Apple’s Live Photos — with or without sound — as a GIF or brief MOV file. The result can be added to your iPhone’s Camera Roll or shared via certain social media channels. The app is dead-simple to use, with image stabilization tech that can tame even the most erratic clip.

I’ve had a great time exporting and sharing MOV files, but lots of trouble with GIFs. I think the latter is an issue with the platforms I’m trying to share to, however. More on that later. First, a few words on Live Photos.

The problems with Live Photos

Sharing

When Apple demonstrated in 2015 I went nuts. Just press and hold to have images of my perfect little snowflake children come alive whenever I want? Oh, the proud poppa moments just entered ANOTHER LEVEL, BABY. I couldn’t wait to foist these on people.

The trouble has been in sharing them with your friends and family members who don’t have an iPhone running the latest iOS 9, as well as on social media.

You could take the DIY approach, which involves connecting your iPhone to your computer, launching Image Capture, sorting by kind and then importing all of the MOV files to your computer.

diy

If you want to do this on a Windows computer, navigate to your iOS device in File Explorer and give your machine permission to browse the internal storage. From there, you should be able to see everything in the DCIM folder on your iOS device.

Not the slickest process.

Eventually, iOS apps began to offer support, including Lively (free with in-app purchase), Live Studio ($0.99) and PicPlayPost (free, with a $2.99 in-app-purchase to remove a watermark).

Services got on board as well, and now Tumblr and Google Photos officially support the technology. Facebook does too, but only for those using the official iOS app on a phone running the latest version of iOS 9 (sorry, Paper users).

While you can get Live Photos off of your device and out to the world, the best experience is still on a compatible Apple gadget.

A blurry mess

Whenever Apple shows off a new photo technology or app, I have two simultaneous thoughts:

  1. Wow, I can’t wait to try that.
  2. My photography skills are garbage.

Grace in her New York Football Club hat. Either that, or she just saw that video from The Ring.
Grace in her New York Football Club hat. Either that, or she just saw that video from The Ring.

Consider this demo of Live Photos that Phil Schiller gave in 2015. Water ripples before a completely static background. A hiker raises his arms triumphantly before a waterfall. These are terrific Live Photos. Meanwhile, I get this type of thing at the end of my clips, as I tend to lower the phone at the end of a clip.

Google’s image stabilization lets me get results that are very close to Apple’s demo images. How does it work? From Google:

“Our algorithm uses linear programming to compute a virtual camera path that is optimized to recast videos and bursts as if they were filmed using stabilization equipment, yielding a still background or creating cinematic pans to remove shakiness.”

It works very well and has allowed me to get demo-ready results.

Using Motion Stills

To share you first GIF or video, follow these steps:

Launch the app and scroll to the image you want to share. Next, tap the image to bring up the editor:

buttons

There are four simple buttons (from left to right):

  1. Turn the stabilization effect on or off
  2. Turn sound on or off
  3. Export your clip
  4. Close the editor and return to the image library

Pay attention the sound option. In my experience, it’s best to turn off, or else you get three seconds of a sentence or other repeating background noise that becomes annoying very quickly. Also, hit the stabilization button a couple of times to see the difference.

When you’re ready to share, hit the share button to reveal two options: Send GIF and Share Clip:

exporting

Tap GIF and the image is created and the Share Sheet appears, ready to go. Hit Share Clip and the same thing happens. In testing this out, I noticed a few little quirks.

GIF issues

This may be the fault of the platforms I’m trying to share GIFs to, but they do not animate. I tried Twitter across various platforms and apps, as well as Facebook and Instagram. Bummer. I did find one little workaround, though.

If you opt to export a MOV and post it to Instagram, you can then share that link to Twitter and view the file that way. Cheap, but there it is.

Unlike my GIF woes, the MOV file worked perfectly. It’s great fun to share a great-looking little clip to Instagram and Facebook with almost zero effort.

This is a fun app that largely does what it’s supposed to do. Give it a try and liberate your Live Photos. As long as they’re not GIFs.

iOS annoyance: the volume icon

volumeicon

The iPhone’s big, non-transparent volume icon has got to go.

Instead of writing a wish list of iOS changes, I’ve got a single request: eliminate the huge volume icon that commandeers the center of the screen. It’s distracting and outdated. My hope for iOS 9.4 is a new volume icon.

Using your iPhone is easier with these great apps

A new feature isn’t necessarily a great feature

Apple introduced 3D Touch with the iPhone 6 in September, 2014. The feature offers two new gestures, “Peek” and “Pop,” which are triggered by the amount of pressure applied to an iPhone’s screen. You can see 3D Touch in action here. It’s pretty neat and can save time, if used properly.

The usefulness of new features like 3D Touch is variable. There are plenty of “Me, too” implementations in the App Store that don’t make your iPhone easier to use, which is the ultimate goal. In the following examples, 3D Touch makes an app significantly better.

Best implementation: Workflow

workflow_3dtouchHands down, Workflow for iPhone and iPad ($2.99) features the best implementation of Apple’s 3D Touch that I’ve seen. It lets you choose what appears in the resulting pop-up menu (up to four items), ensuring that it’s as useful for you as possible. Here’s how to set it up.

  1. Tap My Workflows on the app’s main screen.
  2. Scroll to the bottom and tap Settings.
  3. Tap 3D Touch Shortcuts

From there you’ll see a list of your workflows. Now, just tap the four you’d like to appear in the 3D Touch menu.

Workflow lets you create, download and share automated, multi-step tasks for your iPhone to perform. Have your phone do anything from order a pizza to move files to services like Dropbox. The 3D Touch implementation here is so helpful that it puts an already useful app way over the top. Save serious amounts of time each day with Workflow and 3D Touch.

Notable

Spark

sparkWhile Workflow is my top pick for useful 3D Touch, it’s not the only app that’s making good use of Apple’s fun tech. Readdle’s Spark (https://sparkmailapp.com), a recent “Best of the App Store” selection, does a stellar job by featuring the app’s most common functions: calendar, attachments, search and compose a new message. Simply select any one to jump right to it.

The iconography here is nice and clear as well, and each task is blazing fast. Browsing attachment is especially useful, as they’re presented as a nice list, which is significantly faster than scrolling through a bursting inbox. Spark is a great app and is use of 3D Touch makes it even better.

Instagram

As we saw with Spark, Instagram for iPhone (free) put the most useful tasks front-and-center. I use Search and Post several times per day. But there’s much more here.

Nearly every link in the app offers Peek and Pop. Press-and-hold on a hashtag to see relevant photos. Do the same to a username for a preview of their latest posts. While holding that preview, swipe up for options like unfollow, enable notifications or share as a message. As with the other apps in this list, Instagram is made easier to use via 3D Touch. Very well done.

Camera+

cmraplsOne last selection: Camera+ ($2.99). The long-standing camera app by Tap Tap Tap lets you jump right to taking a photo, as well as the proper setting for getting a selfie or a macro shot. This saves so much time previously spend fiddling around with exposure and focus, especially when taking a macro shot.

All of these apps use Apple’s 3D Touch to make using your iPhone faster and easier. That’s just what technology like this should do. Try them out and see for yourself.

Due 2.0

I started using Due when it was released about four years ago, and I’d wager that I’ve used it every day since. Today Due reminds me to take meds, to pick up and drop off the kids, to get the mail and so on. I depend on it, and it has never failed me.

Version 2.0 was recently released for iOS and it’s more beautiful and functional that before. I can’t think of another third-party app that’s been on my home screen for four years. It’s a steal at $4.99 for new users. Existing users can upgrade for free and unlock all of the new features for $2.99.

Flying for iPhone looks like a great flight app

Flying – an iPhone app for all your air travel from Flying on Vimeo.

Flying for iPhone, still in public beta, wants to be on my iPhone so badly I can hear it whispering, “Install meeeee.” This seriously good-looking app shares information you’d expect like departure and arrival times, terminal and gate info (both sides) and weather. It’s also a bit playful, presenting your route data in a fun, novel way (see the video above).

The social aspect looks great, and reminds me of the bits of Gowalla that I enjoyed so much. You can receive “stamps” for achievements and share/compete with your traveling friends. For example, “You crossed the Atlantic Ocean!” Who among your buddies has racked up the most miles?

I don’t have any flights planned in the immediate future (I *might* go to Florida in a few weeks), but I’ll try out Flying as soon as I do. It looks great.

Rent an Audi A4 with our iPhone

Now that you’ve rented a private jet with your iPhone, why not rent a luxury car? Silvercar rents Audi A4s exclusively, and the whole arrangement can be handled via its free iPhone app. Since Slivercar only rents one make and model, there are no questions about which car to get or what the price will be. It’s the same for everyone.

The service is currently available at three Texas airports only (DFW, Love Field and Austin), but the company expects to be in seven different markets by the end of 2013. According to the app’s description in Apple’s App Store, you can “…exit the plane, and walk directly to your silver Audi A4.”

Just don’t lose your rental agreement, or you’re…well, you know.

Use your iPhone to book a private jet

blackjetappThere’s an app for today’s mobile one-percenter. BlackJet‘s private jet service is now taking reservations via its iPhone app.

You can book a seat up to two days in advance of your departure date and travel between San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Boston and South Florida. As you might expect, it ain’t cheap. I searched for an AM flight between Boston and “South Florida” (I don’t know which airport, actually) and was quoted $2,368.90.

To protect itself from people who would waste their time (like me), BlackJet booking requires a membership plus a one-time membership fee of $2,500. But the benefit is, if you can swing it, you get a guaranteed seat in your preferred time frame on a very nice airplane.

BlackJet says additional cities are coming soon and that well-behaved pets are welcome on board. The company recently received $5 million in funding, according to Galding, and Ashton Kutcher is reportedly a customer.

All I can say is the headphones better be free.

Traveling with Pizza Compass for iPhone

pizzacompassappThere are seventy-four pizza chains in the US. That’s not individual stores, just franchises. And, I suspect, that number is nothing compared to all of the mom-and-pop shops across the country. So it should be easy to find a slice when you’re out of town, right?

Well, not always. Not a good one at least. That’s a problem that Pizza Compass for iPhone ($0.99) exists to solve. Just launch the app and it finds the nearest pizza place and points you to it.

Hold on. Pizza Compass won’t subject you the dump that the locals avoid. You can check each suggestion for Forsquare reviews. Or, if you’re feeling lucky, give the compass a spin at let it pick a stop for you.

I was recently out of town and hungry, so I decided to give Pizza Compass a try. Here’s how it went.

After a few hours of driving around, I had that hunger that only artery-clogging, life-shortening cheese and grease would satisfy. I pulled the car over and launched Pizza Compass, which pointed me towards Upper Crust Pizza. The reviews seemed largely positive, except for Cozzie D.’s stern warning:

“If you don’t like black olives, I recommend not getting the Greek salad.”

Done and done, Cozzie D.

Armed with the details of 44 Foursquare reviews and app-supplied driving directions, I drove to Upper Crust Pizza, despite the hoity-toity name.

It looked nice enough and the staff was friendly. I placed an order.

ucp

As you know, any disgusting pizza can be masked with toppings. In fact, if you ever see a cheese-stuffed crust…that’s an apology. That’s the cook saying, “Our pizza sucks. We know it. As an apology, we’ve crammed the crust with cheese.” Avoid those places.

I ordered a small cheese and sat down. As I waited, I shot this compelling Vine video.

At last it arrived! I lifted the glistening, greasy cardboard lid to reveal the cheesy goodness within!

cheese

Partial foul for that glob of migratory cheese on the left, but that was my only complaint! I’m happy to say that Pizza Compass did steer me in the right direction. Well done, little app. You’ve earned a spot in my travel folder.

The iPhone Traveler Pt. 10: Shoot and edit vacation video with an iPhone

imoviescrnshot

I use Apple’s own camera app, simply called Camera, for shooting video with my iPhone. It does everything I want and is easily accessible from the iPhone’s lock screen (via iOS 5.x). Here’s what I love about shooting video with Camera.

First, it shoots HD video (720p on the iPhone 4, 1080p on the iPhone 4S and 5). Image stabilization goes a long way towards reducing the shakiness of hand-held shots and cropping lets me to perform minor edits before sharing with iMovie on my Mac or iPhone. To shoot some video with the Camera app, follow these steps:

  1. Tap Camera to launch it.
  2. Move the slider in the lower right-hand corner to select video (slide it to the right).
  3. The “shutter button” in the center acquires a red status indicator light. Frame your shot and tap the shutter button to begin recording video.
  4. The red button blinks during recording and a time stamp appears in the upper right-hand corner.
  5. When you’re finished, tap the shutter button again. The red light stops blinking and the video file “jumps” into the camera roll.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind while shooting video with your iPhone. First, It’s almost always better to shoot in landscape orientation (iPhone on its side) than portrait. The main reason is the aspect ratio will look much better on your TV, as you’ll be able to avoid large “black bars” on either side of your video.

You can record video with either the forward-facing camera or the rear-facing camera. You cannot switch while you’re shooting, so make your choice before you begin. Also, there’s no way to zoom in or out while recording, so frame the shot you want first.

Apple has added a nice feature by letting you use the volume up button as the shutter button. Hold your camera on the landscape orientation so that the volume buttons are on top. Tap the volume up button to begin recording (it resembles a “+”) and again to stop. This is feels much more natural than reaching for the software shutter button on your iPhone’s screen. Lastly, you can view your video quickly by simply swiping to the right. The Camera app will slide away and you’ll go right to the camera roll. That’s much easier than exiting Camera and tapping Photos.

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