By Dan Moren
April 12, 2017 8:27 AM PT
Clips Review: Creative fun amidst idiosyncrasies
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
Clips is a clever app, but at times it’s also a bit of a head-scratcher. Apple’s new lightweight video-editing app, which was first announced with little fanfare a few weeks back, actually has some surprising power behind it. The company’s harnessed a lot of the technology it’s developed for video and photo editing over the years, and dropped it into an app that is very direct as to its purpose: create videos to share on social media.1
In and of itself, it’s a well made app that can be pretty fun to use, though it is at times hampered with its somewhat idiosyncratic user interface choices. The big question is whether it can capture users’ valuable time and attention and become something more than a fleeting novelty.
Probably the most impressive part of Clips is the number of powerful tools it puts at your disposal. While it doesn’t have the stickers and interactive “lenses” that, say, Snapchat has, it does provide a few filters—of which Comic Book and Ink are probably the most striking; some text overlays, including the current time, date, location, and word and thought bubbles; a handful of animated title cards; and, perhaps the most lauded feature, automatic Live Title captions provided by Apple’s Dictation feature.
But the most significant thing is the malleability of all those elements. As in Photos, for example, all of the filters are non-destructive: you can add or remove them at any time, including after you’ve recorded a video.2 If you add a text callout box, you can move, delete, or even edit the text in that box at any point. In fact, all of the text in the overlays and title cards is completely editable, which I didn’t realize until after I’d put a few clips together. You can even add those automatic captions or change their style after you’ve recorded a clip. That’s a heck of a lot of power; it’s one of those features that feels like “shouldn’t it always have been this way?” while triggering a bit of a mind-boggling feeling for those of us who are old enough to remember endless rendering times for changing a letter of text here or there.
You can also play music in the background of your video, for which Apple offers a handful of included soundtracks, but also lets you pull from your own music library. Which, while potentially opening up Clips users to copyright violations, is still a hugely welcome feature.3 Clips will even automatically duck the music when you record audio on top of it.
Clips’s editing tools are pretty basic; you can trim the beginning or ending of a clip, remove sound, or trash a clip. Within a video—and here we run into some slight nomenclature problem, as the Clips app contains videos which contain multiple…clips?—you can rearrange clips by drag and drop. Easy enough, and it seems to me it generally strikes the right balance of giving you the tools you need, without making the interface too complex. (A “Split” option to turn a clip into two separate clips would be welcome, however.)
When you’re done with your video, you can tap the Share button to text it directly to a contact, or send it to any other available app or service. As someone who hasn’t spent a lot of time with similar tools like Snapchat or Instagram Stories, I do appreciate that Clips doesn’t tie me to a single social network. And it’s smart of Apple to provide the means to create—something it’s always excelled at—rather than trying to create an end-to-end social experience—an area where its successes have been remarkably few.
There are, however, a few eccentricities that hamper the overall Clips experience, many of which have to do with the somewhat confusing interface. (Apple has, however, included a Help document accessible from the main screen, which reminded me of similar options on macOS.)
Clips makes abundant use of “sliding” to hide parts of the interface. For example, while you’re viewing a video, there’s a downward facing triangle in the top left corner that will slide the current video down to display your scrolling list of thumbnails for all the videos you’ve made. In theory this is handy because you tap on a video’s thumbnail and play it back without “opening” it, but that’s also a little weird because there’s an “Open” button at the bottom of the screen; the idea of “Opening” a video feels like a very macOS concept rather than an iOS one—especially since you can also just tap a video again after you’ve selected it to open it.
While you’re viewing a clip inside a video, all of the elements of the interface can be a bit much to take in at first: there’s a timeline of all the clips in the video at the bottom, selectors for Photo/Video/Library, recording controls, overlay controls, et cetera. Tapping on a clip slides up an editing interface, which has a downward facing arrow atop it to remind you that you can slide it down again; it makes sense eventually, but it took me a while to figure out what was going on in my first explorations. (And don’t even get me started about the “download” icon in the top right, which apparently downloads the selected clip into your Photo Library. Apparently once you do, Clips uses it as references? Because when I removed it from the Photo Library, Clips gave me an error about not being able to find it. File management: still not iOS’s strong suit.)
Dragging and dropping clips to reorder them is perfectly fine—and I appreciate the use of haptic feedback when you “grab” a clip—but woe betide you if you drag a clip off the timeline. I experimented with this after realizing that I’d put a clip in the wrong video project (very easy to do with the interface), but when I dragged it up to the top and released it, it simply disappeared from the timeline and was, from what I can tell, effectively deleted. (There is a cue in that the thumbnail kind of “ghosts” when you’re dragging it, but you can’t really tell that because your finger is covering it it.) There really should be an easier way to move clips between videos; my natural inclination was that the top panel would slide down when I dragged the clip to it, Ã la spring-loaded folders, and I could then drag the clip to another video.
Sharing seems to work pretty well, though there’s no ability to send a video directly to Twitter (which seems to be a limitation of Twitter’s share extensions more than Clips itself), and while you can import videos and photos from your photo library, I wish there were an easier mode of collaboration by, say, allowing you to send a video someone iMessaged you directly into Clips, instead of having to intermediate with the Photo Library.
Also on the list of clumsy UI decisions: the scrolling list of your videos at the top, which seems handy at first, quickly becomes unwieldy; I’ve only recorded a handful of videos, and already I can see how hard it may be to find the right one, especially if you make several similar looking projects.
In general, I found the included overlays and filters to be fun if a little sparse, but Apple’s much lauded Live Titles had more decidedly mixed results, as in the video at right where it could not understand me saying “Steve Jobs.”4 In general, I think it doesn’t handle people speaking particularly fast—that’s less of a problem when, say, dictating a text message or talking to Siri, where you can speak very…slow…and…enunciate, but in a video that you’re posting online, that doesn’t really work. That said, you can tap the titles once you’ve recorded a clip and edit them5; it just might be a bit time-consuming, depending on the extent of the errors.
The big picture
Overall, I really like Clips. It has a distinct feel of iMovie ’08, which erstwhile Apple engineer Randy Ubillos once said he whipped up after getting back from vacation, and it’s clearly attempting to reinvent and streamline iMovie for the social media age. I’m intrigued to see if and how Apple continues to improve it in the future.
But as a larger strategic move, it’s not immediately apparent what the point of Clips is. It’s not, fortunately, another attempt by Apple to create a social network—the company’s forays with the late, not-so-lamented Ping and its pseudo-successor, Apple Music Connect, have never exactly caught on. Rather, Clips is simply a tool to easily create videos and share them. That’s much more in Apple’s wheelhouse. I suppose the potential upside is that it can make iOS more attractive to potential switchers by having a hot new tool, but in the end, that really depends on whether or not Clips catches on.
At least, if nothing else, Clips has given me the gift of this GIF of Lex Friedman. Forever.
- Up until you export the video for sharing, that is. ↩
- The only caveat is if you’re using Apple Music/iTunes Match, the track needs to be downloaded on to your device in order to show up in the My Music section. And, unlike Apple’s own soundtracks, which you can download from within Clips, you need to go to the Music app to do that. ↩
- Since I believe Dictation can learn about your contacts, I suspect it picked up on my friend Genevieve and decided it was more likely I was talking about her than Steve Jobs? ↩
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @email@example.com or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]
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