Coverstory, Path’s baffling new feature

This week Path introduced a new feature called Coverstory, and published a whole 33 words of introduction on its blog. After a few days of use I can see why: it’s an interesting feature with baffling execution. Here’s a look.

Taking a cue from Instagram and Snapchat, Coverstory lets Path users record and share 10 seconds worth of video that disappears after 24 hours. You can add music and text and, once a video is shared, see a preview in place of your cover photo. If someone you’re following publishes a Coverstory, a number appears next to a new pink play button on your cover photo. That’s the same button you tap to record a Coverstory video, which is where the problems begin.

recordbuttonThe first time you launch the app after updating, a pop-up window briefly explains the new feature. Dismiss it and find the pink play button on your cover photo. Tap it to move to the record screen (right).

The top half of the screen is a video preview. Beneath that are icons representing how many active videos you and your followers have published as well as a big record button. Tap the “+” to begin recording.

When you’re done shooting, you can add one of 17 music tracks. From there, hit publish and you’re done. Kind of.

There’s nothing in the timeline to indicate that you, or someone you follow, has published a Coverstory. Which is extremely odd, as that’s where all updates appear. The timeline is where users are trained to look for news. Instead, when someone you follow publishes a Coverstory, a small “1” appears in the pink play button on your cover photo. The first time I saw this I was very confused, as I thought it indicated I had published a video when I hadn’t.

Additionally, Coverstory videos can take several seconds to begin playing. In my testing using WiFi and cellular data across three phones, I stared at a static image for up to six seconds with no progress bar, spinning gear or indication of any kind that something was happening. Many people will assume it’s not working in that amount of time and move on.

Coverstory is cute and can be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it’s confusing and apparently hasn’t sparked any enthusiasm from the Path team. I use Path daily, and I’m disappointed with this potentially compelling feature.

You’ll need Path version 6.0.2 on iOS or 4.4 on Android to try Coverstory. Here’s something odd: Path is has an average 2.5 star rating on the App Store but 4.25 on the Google Play Store. I use it on both and it’s practically identical.

Switching from iPhone to Pixel

judas-iscariot-1-sized
I wanted to Photoshop a Pixel into Judas’ hand but I don’t know how to do that. So imagine that it’s there.

“You’re a traitor.” – My 13-year-old daughter to me, as I purchased my Google Pixel XL.

After nine years of iPhone ownership, I’ve switched to Android by buying a Google Pixel XL. This article is about why.

Let me begin with what did not motivate my decision. First: I love the iPhone. When I picked up the original model on June 29, 2007, I declared it, “The coolest thing I’ve ever owned.” Subsequent models have only reinforced that assertion with huge leaps in features, design, utility and fun.

The iPhone defined a market and created several cottage industries, from case manufacturers to blogs and podcasts that feature reviews, opinions and discussions around the device’s present and future. The App Store is an economy that provides a sustaining income for developers, designers, copy writers and more.

That little slab of metal and glass has been my constant companion for nearly a decade, providing entertainment, timely reminders, easy communication with friends and family, near ubiquitous, on-demand access to work files, gorgeous photos and more reliably and with grace. I love the iPhone and did not by a Pixel as a reaction to some gripe with Apple. So why did I switch? A few reasons.

The time is right

pixelI’ve always been Android-curious. I’ve taken glimpses over Android-wielding friends’ shoulders over the past few years, but rarely liked what I saw. Android seemed like an OS built for developers, not civilians like me. Likewise, I dislike the model that divorces hardware and software development. As a result, my curiosity about Android remained just that: curiosity.

Meanwhile, I slowly and quite unintentionally added Google apps and services to my iPhone. The Google App for iPhone is fantastic for reminders, scheduling, search and timely news. I check it several times per day and love it. Google Calendar has been my choice for years, and Google Photos has managed my digital image library since it was first released. Likewise, I’ve been using Google Docs and Drive to collaborate for as long as I can remember.

At the same time, I abandoned Apple’s Calendar, Photos, News and Pages. Not intentionally or even consciously. It’s just that Google’s solutions worked beautifully on my iPhone, so I used them.

Enter the Pixel

Google’s Pixel announcement happened just as I was thinking about replacing my iPhone 6S. I was intrigued by a piece of hardware designed by Google, running “pure” Android with deep integration with the services I loved. I held off on the iPhone 7 and took some time to read reviews:

Dieter Bohn liked it.
Walt Mossberg liked it.
Joanna Stern liked it.
John Gruber sent me a brief but glowing “Twitter review.”
Myke Hurley had nice things to say.*

I watched several hands-on videos and listened to – a first here – a couple of episodes of the Android Central Podcast. The hosts were nit-picky but overall enthusiastic.

I felt a stirring inside. The time was right. Which leads me to…

I want the fun of an adventure

I have two children. I try to instill in them a sense of adventure and curiosity about our world. Here’s a quick story.

Recently we spent a long weekend out of state. At one point, we needed to get a new charger for his iPad. He was annoyed that his charger and died, and even more bothered when I told him that he’d come with me to find a replacement. “Why can’t you just go?” he asked.

“You don’t want to come? It’ll be an adventure!”

“Going to Best Buy is not an adventure.”

But it is. We’re in a new state. We’re in a town we’ve never seen before. We’ll travel through new (to us) neighborhoods, see new people and yes, visit a new strip mall. There was a little mom-and-pop corner store that we went into and saw a black-and-white photo of a man in a chicken suit. I got a Coke and we talked to the cashier. He told us about local legend Chicken Man and pointed us to Best Buy. As we drove back to the hotel, my son said, “That was fun.” It was.

Using an Android phone for the next two years will be an adventure. It will be fun. Oh, there will be things I’ll miss, like Twitterrific, Spark, iMessages (I’m REALLY going to miss iMessages) and something I’m calling Knowing How To Operate My Damn Phone, but I’m still looking forward to it. The time is right. The device is right. I might hate it; I might love it. I’m eager to find out.

Of course, I’ll be writing exhaustively about the process here. The adventure begins on Tuesday. See you then.

*Myke offers a bit of “real talk” on the episode of his vlog about his own Pixel XL. He says, in part:

“I can switch phones. It’s totally fine. We’re not fighting a war here, from device to device, from operating system to operating system. Apple isn’t an underdog anymore. Android isn’t an underdog. They’re both levelly placed on this huge playing field…It’s totally fine for people to like two tech companies, three tech companies, four tech companies and enjoy the products that they make.”

Amen, Myke. Now please explain that to my daughter, OK?

Use YouTube for music on your iPhone

via GIPHY

My 13-year-old’s dramatic eye-rolling made me a better iPhone user.

I recently discovered that I can use YouTube for listening to music on my phone without it taking over what’s happening on my screen. Here’s what I mean.

My daughter was describing a song to me, but couldn’t quite recall the title or artist. As a TECH GOD I grabbed my iPhone and launched Apple Music. “Just use YouTube,” she said with the disdain typically reserved for someone who had just kicked your dog.

I would, but YouTube commandeers the iPhone. If you’re using the official app, any video that’s playing stops as soon as you navigate away. The same goes for YouTube.com in mobile Safari. Unless you do the following:

  1. Go to YouTube.com in mobile Safari.
  2. Find the video you want to listen to and get it playing.
  3. Hit your iPhone’s Home button to navigate away from Safari.
  4. The music stops. Don’t panic! Just swipe up to reveal the Control Center (below)
  5. Hit the play button.

thebeebs

That’s it! Hit the Home button one more time to dismiss the Control Center and use your iPhone however you like while the YouTube video plays in the background. I had no idea this was possible.

Hence the eye-rolling.

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.

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.