28 August 2014

Wired Design: “Hyperlapse, Instagram’s New App, Is Like a $15,000 Video Setup in Your Hand”

The first screen has only a record button. Once you’re done recording, the only thing you can do is choose what speed you want your video to run—the slider goes from 1x to 12x. Once that’s set, you can share the video directly to Facebook or Instagram. This simplicity came early to the product. Chris Connolly, the designer that Dimson had rallied to his cause, recognized immediately that for all the fussy UI detail, one function mattered above all: replay speed. Fooling with that speed made some videos zippy that could be boring; others comic that could be dull; and others poetic that had once simply been neat-o.

Once you start using the app, you quickly see that replay speed itself becomes a novel, alluring tool: For pets and people, replaying at about 1x gives you the sense that you’re creating a tracking shot like that Copacabana scene in Goodfellas. The higher replay speeds work better for shooting the sky out your airplane window, the scenery scrolling past during a train ride, or anything else that’s moving slowly or at a distance. Where Instagram’s filters are all about changing color and light, Hyperlapse uses a simple speed slider as its main creative decision.

Cliff Kuang

Despite the bombastic title, the article is an excellent overview of a new app that managed to get me excited about shooting video. I’m more of a photography fan and I never saw the appeal of recording video clips when a well-timed photo would have a stronger impact. On the other hand I love timelapse – even though I don’t really have the patience or the gear to record them with my DSLR camera – and that’s what Hyperlapse is offering: a quick and fun way to create timelapse videos, straight on your iPhone. I installed the app almost immediately after hearing about it and tried it out the next day in the subway and with a water fountain next to my office building.

The interface is minimalistic: a full-screen camera with a single, round ‘record’ button. After playing around with  this initial screen, I discovered other subtle controls: taping anywhere on the screen serves as focusing and exposure point, similar to the native camera app. The thin ring around the recording button doubles as indicator about the ambient light: with sufficient light, the ring is rainbow-colored, mirroring the app icon. When it’s too dark, the ring turns black, and if you try to start recording you will get a warning that you can dismiss with another tap. I also noticed the view is narrower than the angle of view of the iPhone camera, an effect that was explained later by the engineering team.

I’m sure the idea was to build an app that’s super-easy to learn and use, so that people can start making and sharing videos immediately – it’s an Instagram product after all – but the photography enthusiast inside me would still like to have more controls. The most important would be the ability to record videos in square format, it would make composing the scenes for Instagram much easier. I’m actually surprised that the app launched without it, since Instagram accepts only square photos and videos. At this stage, the app will end up encouraging people to shoot and share videos in the odd ‘portrait’ orientation. It would also be nice to be able to save the original along with the ‘hyperlapse’, or to be able to save several versions at different speeds to compare later. If you are trying to capture a particular scene (like a beautiful, unique sunset or airplane takeoff), you rarely get a second chance; the longer the video, the less likely you’ll be to recreate the setting; if the app crashes or you choose the wrong speed, you lose it forever. It will certainly require much more local storage, but I would prefer the option instead of throwing away the original. That’s probably one of the reasons I prefer photography: in the time it takes someone to make a video, a photographer can capture dozens of shots at higher resolution and take his time to choose (or edit) the best later.

Morning subway ride, taken with Instagram’s new Hyperlapse app at 10x
Office fountain in sunset light, taken with Instagram’s new Hyperlapse app at 4x

A couple of problems popped up when I tried to upload and share the videos. I initially saved them to the camera roll, and, after connecting to Wi-Fi at home, started uploading. Which didn’t go so well: on Instagram, the video got cropped to square and trimmed to 15s, then (after applying a filter as well) the result was underwhelming, a choppy, heavily pixelated clip. I realize Instagram needs to optimize uploads for speed and mobile performance, but this is too much and I doubt I will ever share another video there. Next stop was Flickr’s new mobile app, which disappointedly uploaded the video, but failed to process and display it on the site. I ended up uploading both videos on , which preserved both the original aspect ratio and resolution. Nevertheless, these annoyances have nothing to do with Hyperlapse; it’s a fun app and I expect to be using it a lot more in the future for a fresh perspective on the world around me.

Also, Hyperlapse would be a killer app for Google Glass, if it ever gets a compatible version. Or maybe Google will just reverse engineer it for Glass.

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