The first thing you’d think looking at Clips, Apple’s newly announced video-editing app, is that it’s trying to be Snapchat. Or Instagram. Or Vine. But Clips, which I got a chance to try my hands on in New York, doesn’t have its own social platform. It’s a video-editing tool.
Clips is, in fact, more like a phone-first, vertical-friendly version of iMovie. It’s a free app that will arrive in April, and works on the iPhone 5S and later, or on an iPad (Air, Mini 2 and later) or an iPod Touch.
I used it for a few minutes to shoot video clips of a barista who nicely made me a coffee. Alas, I don’t have that video to share, but I can describe what it was like to make.
Clips records all its video in a square format, like Instagram or Vine. Apple is aiming for video that can be shared vertically or horizontally, and can work well on a phone.
The layout of Clips feels like other tools I use all the time. Titles and end cards can be added to videos, much like iMovie’s trailer-like effects. In a lot of ways, Clips feels like it’s inherited some of that trailer-mode spirit from its older sibling.
The tools are simple: Pressing and holding a red record button captures video clips, or you can add ones from your camera roll. Multiple clips can be added and then dragged around to re-edit nonlinearly, like iMovie. In that sense, it feels more advanced than the editing tools you find in Snapchat or Vine.
There are real-time filters for photos or video, from tinted black-and-white to Prisma-like comic book effects. Emoji can be slapped onto videos in various sizes, but there aren’t any iMessage stickers. According to Apple, however, it’s committed to adding new effects and filters over time.
There are also a bunch of bubbles and other effects, which I didn’t even get a chance to try.
Auto-transcribed captions and automatic soundtracks
What really impressed me was the app’s ability to turn audio into captions added right into the video, timed to when you actually said it. If I slowly deliver a line such as, “I’m about to have... a coffee,” the text pops up appropriately and even adds line breaks for effect. Some captions scroll across the bottom like a TV chyron, while others pop up large, word by word, splashed across the screen. Apple designed it for people who watch videos with audio off, like almost everyone on Facebook.
There are several dozen soundtracks included in the app, and they layer in automatically to fit the video clip’s length. Some recognizable artists are on there, including film composer Hans “Bwaaaarp” Zimmer. I set my coffee video to Zimmer’s thumping orchestral riffs, and it was as absurd as I’d hoped.
Not a social network (or maybe it is, just a bit)
Clips isn’t designed to have its own social network. It exports and directly shares into other apps, including Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube and Instagram to start. According to Apple, to share with Snapchat you’ll just save a video to your camera roll and upload once you’re in Snapchat.
It seems like an in-between tool to get people’s feet wet in video editing without getting lost in iMovie, which has long existed on iOS. Or maybe it’s iMovie training wheels. Or, perhaps, it’s a bit of a burgeoning social network after all. After I make a video, the app can scan photos of recognized people tagged in Apple’s Photos app or audio of any names on my iPhone’s contacts, and suggest those people to share with on iMessage. Videos from Clips will also be something to share on Apple’s iCloud across other devices, a territory that the automatic Memories video clips in Photos have already begun to explore.
Clips feels familiar, but its deeper editing ability could make it useful for on-the-fly social video posting. For its captioning feature alone, I could see a lot of people using it. First up for me will be storyboarding video ideas. The only problem is, it only makes square videos.
But maybe that’s just a problem for me.