Apple’s new Clips app.
Quick: you want to make a casual, shareable video that’s longer than 60 seconds, what app do you use?
If you’re drawing a blank (besides your phone’s stock camera app) then you may have just made the case for Clips, Apple’s new video app, which is due out in April.
At a high level, Clips is something of a cross between iMovie and Snapchat. You can edit together a series of clips (get it?) and still images into longer videos that you can stylize with filters, text overlays, graphics, and, yes, lots of emoji.
That may sound more like Snapchat than a straight-up video editor but the core features of Clips have more in common with iMovie than something Evan Spiegel would dream up.
For one, Apple’s app offers more flexibility. Your creations can be as short as a few seconds or as long as an hour (though, more likely, they’ll be somewhere in between.) And though the "hold down to record" functionality is signature Snapchat the drag-and-drop interface for rearranging clips is borrowed straight from iMovie.
Clips also doesn’t have any built-in social features of its own, other than the fact that it plays extra nice with Apple’s Messages app (more on that in a second) and you can, of course, share your finished videos to the social platform of your choice.
Given a closer look, though, it’s clear there’s more going on here than iMovie with some emoji mixed in. Under the hood, Clips has quite a bit of artificial intelligence baked in. The first and most obvious place you’ll see this is the real-time video filters that make your clips look like a comic book or a pencil sketch, similar to what you’d see in an app like Prisma or Facebook’s ongoing camera experiment.
Clips also uses subtle image recognition to detect the faces of people you know (based on your contacts list) who appear in your videos. Similarly, if you say a friend’s name while recording, the app will register that as well. Recognized friends are then surfaced in a special area of the iOS share sheet where you can get one-touch shortcuts to send the clips via the Messages app. (Sort of like Apple’s version of suggested Facebook’s photo tagging suggestions.)
But the most impressive AI-driven feature is an entirely new one, which Apple has dubbed "Live Titles." While recording with Live Titles turned on, the app creates near-instant text captions as you speak.
In practice, the feature appears seamless but behind the scenes there’s actually quite a bit of processing going on: As you speak, the app takes the audio, sends it to Apple’s servers where it’s transcribed into text, and sends it back to your device with the captions synced to the video’s audio — all in the time it takes to record.
And, should the app mis-transcribe a word — as often happens with speech-to-text software — you can quickly go in and edit the caption after the fact.
At this point, you might be wondering who and what this app is actually for. It’s a fair question considering it’s more involved than something like Snapchat or Instagram, but significantly less advanced than comparable professional or semi-professional offerings like iMovie or Final Cut.
For now, it’s unclear exactly how Apple plans to position Clips. Schools is one clear use case — the company would be the first to point out that tools like iMovie already sees a lot of use in classrooms — but the app could certainly have a broader appeal as well.
There’s also the somewhat curious fact that Apple is releasing the app well ahead of WWDC, when it typically shows off new software, which could be a sign of future developer tie-ins.
Speculation aside, we’ll know much more in the coming weeks once the app is officially released into the App Store. Apple hasn’t yet revealed an exact release date for Clips but it will be available for iPhones and iPads with the iOS 10.3 update once it’s out next month.