Are Apple’s Live Photos a gimmick or a game-changer?

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Live Photos bring a little life to your still images.
Live Photos bring a little life to your still images.
Photo: Apple

A few extra megapixels is always welcome, but if there is one feature of the new iPhone 6s camera that gets us to say “Wow,” it is Live Photos.

The new Live Photos technology actually captures a brief moment before and after your snap, giving the subject in a finished picture motion and a bit of life. After seeing it for the first time, some said, “Wow, that’s cool!” And others said, “Wow, that’s nothing new.”

Apple continues to be a disruptive force in photography and the iPhone 6s introduced at the company’s annual fall product reveal yesterday in San Francisco is just another step in its evolutionary advancement.

The camera now boasts a 12-megapixel sensor (up from 8), a more sophisticated flash, 4K video and the Live Photos function. In Apple’s demo of the new feature, a photo of a smiling child comes to life with a long tap, showing her head and fidgety hands flitting about in a moment before and after the snap.

Apple sees Live Photos as being able to capture a true moment, the spirit of which can be missed or understated in a two-dimensional picture.

“Some people are going to react with, ‘Why would I do that, why can’t I just take a Vine or a video?” TechCrunch editor in chief Matthew Panzarino said in a video on his website. “For a parent? I can tell you Apple did not demonstrate it with a kid on accident. I think it’s really neat.”

The face that first introduced us to Live Photo.
The face that first introduced us to Live Photos.
Photo: Apple

Travel photographer Austin Mann, who uses the iPhone for both stills and videos in a lot of his assignments, was also enthusiastic about the potential for Live Photos. Mann had several images included in Apple’s Shot on iPhone 6 advertising campaign.

“It’s yet another tool in the tool bag for creating deep, more intimate connections between subject and audience,” Mann told Cult of Mac. “Though it may seem small in a demo, I think this little feature will profoundly impact the way we shoot and share the experience online.”

But some in the tech press dismissed Live Photos as a gimmick, seeing it as nothing more than a GIF-maker or video clipper that will only suck up storage on your iPhone.

Panzarino gave the best explanation on how Live Photos works, saying the finished file will only take up the equivalent of two 12-megapixel images.

“It doesn’t actually take a bunch of pictures,” Panzarino said. “When you raise your phone to take a picture, it’s already recording and it records the picture when you press the button. (The iPhone) buffers a set of images so that when you press it you are getting an instant fire. So now all they are doing is taking that sidecar data, the data on either side of the image, and recompiling that into a motion format.”

Still, not everyone is impressed. Other phone manufacturers and app developers have brought movement to still photos.

The example most pointed out was HTC’s Zoe.

Kyle Wagner, a writer for The Concourse, called Live Photos a “sorta-new thing.”

“Shut up, nerds, it’s compressed video,” Wagner wrote. “This is marginally cool and also a tremendous waste of dozens of engineers’ time and something you’ll maybe use now and then, but probably not. Also, Windows Phone has had this for years, but no one cares, because what is a Windows Phone?”

Casey Berner, a photographer and contributing writer for photography site Fstoppers, takes a kinder view of Live Photos, though he is adamant about it not being groundbreaking or new. Berner points to Cinemagraphs and Flixel and, of course, GIF files, that proceeded Live Photos.

Berner said Live Photos can only live in the Apple ecosystem and remains limited unless social media and other devices adopt the technology (Facebook is said to be working on eventually accommodating Live Photos).

“But Apple does have a way of knowing the trends of technology early on,” Berner told Cult of Mac. “We saw that with TouchID, the exodus of optical drives and now their attempt at USB with USB-C.

“What makes Live Photos exciting is more about the users. Again, it’s a gimmick, but if some creative people out there really make something of it, it could be a great new way to share moments.”

Radu Rusu, of startup company Fyusion, which brought motion to photos with an app called Fyuse for both iOS and Android, was excited by Apple’s announcement of Live Photos because Cupertino’s brand has the kind of clout to bring the technology to devices and platforms for everyday use.

“I am amazed by so many innovations but in terms of the way we capture visual data,” we’re still a century behind,” Rusu told Cult of Mac. “This expands the definition of photography. We love the fact that companies are taking a step toward breaking down 2-D imaging and video. The hardest thing we have to do is tell the world that something else is possible.”

Rusu said Fyusion (so named because the technology represents the fusion of stills and video) saw heavy use of its app only two months after launching in December. He has seen Fyuse used by artists, chefs and car dealers, who can use the technology to quickly show the space around a subject without having to slog through a slideshow or video.

The Fyuse files look very similar to Live Photos. Fyuse users share the files with friends, who can experience the motion with the swipe of a finger and don’t need a special app to make the pictures move. (Check out a gallery of Fyuse files here.)

Rusu sees great potential for editorial and advertising applications for technology like his and Live Photos, but believes Apple was focused solely on the average person who gets frustrated by not being able to capture the moments that lead up to the frozen image.

Is a person better off taking pictures or recording video? Now there’s something in between.

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  • josephz2va

    The camera now boasts a 12-megapixel sensor (up from 8) – Gimmick unless the quality is more superior for more than a month (higher than the next Samsung stealer).
    A more sophisticated flash – Gimmick unless it improves dark quality photos.
    4K video – Gimmick unless everyone has a 4K TV which only 1/16th of the world has one. I have yet to spend $500 to $5000 for one.
    Live Photos function – Gimmick. I’ll only use it for a few months then quit.

    • sewollef

      “Gimmick unless the quality is more superior for more than a month “

      Wow… you really didn’t read/watch the keynote did you.

      Quote: “…a next-generation, Apple-designed image signal processor that works with iOS 9 to provide better temporal and spatial noise reduction as well as third-generation local tone mapping.”

      “A new 12MP sensor uses advanced pixel technology. Every pixel in the sensor has been reengineered to prevent crosstalk between the subpixels, meaning we could fit a lot more pixels in the sensor for a sharper photo that has less noise and truer color.”

      Now, I’m prepared to give this new phone the benefit of the doubt, but considering the iPhone is already the most used camera on Flickr [more than Nikon or Canon], and I have personal experience of iPhone 6 photography, which as a photographer, is pretty spectacular for the size and space available for the sensor.

      I’d hold you’re disdain and ire for the evidence of the reality – when the device is in peoples hands. I’m just saying’….

  • lee scott

    I think it will be a hit. I’m older than what Apple is probably shooting for here, but I can see this being a really good alternative to other apps or processes to do essentially the same thing, with no effort.
    Count me in the hit camp for this.

  • gregorvogt

    I don’t know. It feels like a gimmick but when I look back at whole bunch of pictures I took on my last holiday, I knew nda wish some of them were Live, because that’s how I remember them, it’s not just about the picture, it’s about the moment I took the picture, so I guess, yeah, not just a gimmick.

  • TJ

    As a parent with a kid that moves pretty quickly, I can tell you 100% that this will not be a gimmick, but a fundamental way that people will capture their little ones much better than a million blurry photos or 4 second video clips. Being able to have the lock screen as a Live Photo is awesome, and when you flip through Live Photos the way the animate into view is very well thought out. I was a 20 something techno-geek with no kids and unimpressed by things not bringing efficiency and functionality to my life once too, but one day you’ll grow up and realize Apple has it’s finger firmly on the trends of everyday people with things like this and it will be a hit.

    • Cory

      So its a gimmick when HTC first introduced it 4 years ago? But not when Apple copies if? Typical response from your kind. If anyone has there finger firmly on trends of everyday people with things like this its HTC. They did it first. Hell even Microsoft did it. This is just Apple copying and ripping off other companies successful features your to blind to see that tho.

  • What these critics don’t get about Live Photos is that no one really gives a shit whether Apple was the first to come out with something like this or not — the point is that they’ve made it super duper easy to do. Sorry Fyuse, I’m not in any way inclined to download and hunt for a separate app just to take Live Photos. What defines a game changer isn’t the technology, but getting people to actually use that technology, and having this as part of the default Camera app will do what Apple does best — take something 99% of people didn’t previously know or care about, and make it something they can’t do without.

    Live Photos will only seem gimmicky until we’re all taking them. Most of the time, when you take a photo with people in it, the result never really captures the moment. Even in a good photograph, something is lost when you isolate one split-second out of all the seconds happening while you’re taking the photo. I can definitely see how bringing back in a little of the time surrounding the snapshot could reclaim much of the spirit and emotion of the person or moment you’re capturing.

    • SnapNpictures

      Drunkardo, I tend to agree with most of what you wrote. I’m a little confused though about your “sorry Fyuse, but…” comments. I’m not sure if you’ve tried Fyuse, but it’s a very different sort of medium. While Live Photos are all about temporal photos, Fyuse is focused primarily on 3D. Live Photo’s half second recording before and after a photo is pretty cool, but it doesn’t capture the scene as a whole—Fyuse does.

    • Cory

      You know who else made it super duper easy to use: HTC. With Zoe. 4 years ago.

  • igorsky

    This is a canned reaction to any Apple release. It starts out as “nothing new” and a “gimmick”, until it becomes ubiquitous in every phone from every manufacturer because Apple shined a light on it. For reference see Siri, Apple Pay, Touch ID and, shortly, 3D Touch. Everyone starts following and it’s no longer a gimmick.

    • Cory

      No. It’s just Apple copying HTC again.

  • nwcs

    Gimmick. This capability has been in point and shoots before. I’d expect most people won’t remember it’s there.

  • Jeremy Rentiz

    Live Photo is a ripoff. Nokia did this 3 years ago on their Lumias.

    • C0C0tva

      How is Nokia doing on the cell phone front?

      • yorgo

        point is, they did it first apple head. blew their market share but did it first.

    • Cory

      HTC did it before Nokia.

  • GentleGiant

    Can Live Photos be turned off?

  • JMann

    I’m surprised I haven’t seen any references to the photographs from Harry Potter…
    I’d say anyone with a little creative imagination sees that Apple’s work here is not a gimmick.

    • Cory

      When HTC launched Zoe you saw Harry Potter references. But this is just Apple copying HTC again.

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  • TeeJay1100

    Game Changer indeed

    • Cory

      Yeah when HTC did it 4 years ago. Not when Apple copied it.

      • TeeJay1100

        HTC is dead, try again. When they did it it didn’t catch on. Now that Apple did it better you mad? LOL

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  • Gary Deezy

    Its a neat gimmick, but if they don’t get FaceBook or Twitter to support the format, it will quickly fade into oblivion….

  • Cory

    It’s a complete copy of HTC Zoe.

  • Tom DiMaggio

    My two-year old Windows phone has that feature, but because nobody knows what a Lumia is, I guess Apple invented it. Good for you, Apple. Good for you.

  • c

    love it!