Is Apple Live Photos Just a GIF App?

Well the the short answer is YES! Oh boy, what have I done. I can already hear Apple fanboys and legions of GIF purists screaming repeating loops at me that I’m dead wrong.

Apple fans will simply revel in Phil Schiller’s words – this is “new technology.” It’s not a GIF because it’s “full resolution 12 megapixel stills”. It “includes sound.” Or my favourite bit of Apple marketing gobbledygook, “the motion is created using a space efficient frame-to-frame technology.”

Apple doesn’t want Live Photos to be associated with silly GIFs so they decided to immediately reframe the comparison to something different. Phil went on to say that Live Photos aren’t video either. Confusing eh? Especially after we had just learned that the new iPhone 6S shoots 4K video.

The GIF purist will agree with all of the above points and will go one step further. But first, a bit of history. GIF is an acronym for Graphics Interchange Format. A 28 year old file format that actually predates the world wide web. It has a long history on the web and its 8 bits per pixels and limited 256 colour palette is precisely what makes GIFs kitschy and fun.

While these arguments are technically true, it’s not really relevant. Ask the average Joe on the Internet to define a GIF, and they will almost universally answer with “a short loop of animated images.” How do I know this? Well as co-founder and CEO of Flixel, I’ve spent the last four years trying to convince thousands of potential customers that cinemagraphs, aka Living Photos, were not GIFs.

A cinemagraph is by definition, a still photograph in which a minor and repeated movement occurs. The key word is “minor.” When viewing a cinemagraph it looks like you are staring at a still but within this frozen moment in time there is one element that is in motion and continuously repeats. In the hands of creatives, the effects can be mesmerizing and hypnotic.

for more examples of beautiful cinemagraphs

Now you are probably thinking what do cinemagraphs or “Living Photos” have to do with Apple Live Photos? At this point, not very much, except that they both have their roots in how people interpret GIFs, short looping animation, and therein lies the problem. When Apple announced Live Photos and showed their demo, many on Twitter immediately thought Apple had created a GIF or cinemagraph app.

Last year, our app Cinemagraph Pro, had the good fortune of winning an Apple Design Award. So you can only imagine the kind of betrayal our team would have felt if Apple had honored us in 2014 and Sherlocked us in 2015.

Thankfully, this was not the case and I actually believe their new Live Photos will be the biggest catalyst for taking cinemagraphs and other short form video mainstream. Live Photos, is Apple taking a baby step towards a new art and commercial medium that is currently sweeping social media and digital marketing – micro-video.

For in reality, even GIFs today should be classified as micro-video. On Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Giphy, all of the GIFs you see are primarily being served up using video encoding to reduce file sizes. Also, video is nothing more than a series of still images stitched together and played at a set frame rate (normally 30 fps). Doesn’t this sound eerily similar to Live Photos? The only really difference we can see is that their player doesn’t compress the images like most video encoding does.

So why would Apple want to get into the micro-video space? Because longer form video is difficult and expensive to do well. With the iPhone 6s, the world will soon have 4K video creation tools in their pocket. While Apple wants us to use iPhones for both photos and videos, most iPhone buyers love their devices for image quality, not for its video recording capabilities.

That’s going to change and change quickly. Very soon all iPhone users will be creating and sharing micro-videos as often as photos. We all know that video has the ability to hold our attention far longer than a photo. And who couldn’t use a little more of that these days?


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