The art of Live Photos is a tricky business. You've got a mere 3 seconds (45 frames) of footage at your disposal, half of which has already been spent before you've even decided to press the shutter button. Yet somehow, that you were only ever consciously aware of the millisecond decision to snap a picture that also happens to be the twenty-third frame of a miniature movie you didn't know was rolling, makes for some of the most memorable moments living in your iPhone's camera roll.
As it happens, deciding what to do with those moments once they're on your camera roll is also a tricky business. So long as you're sharing them with friends or family on iOS9 via Messages, and more recently Facebook and Tumblr — you're golden — the rest of the world? Well, for some the answer is clearly ¯\_(⊙_ʖ⊙)_/¯, but others have found solutions in apps like Lively and Live GIF that convert Live Photos into either GIFs or movies that can then be shared on services like Twitter and Instagram, regardless of the OS on the receiving device.
Nice as they are though, neither Lively or Live GIF seem half as interesting when compared to Wednesday's rather odd entry into this very niche market of Live Photo editing — Motion Stills by Google. That Google, who supports Live Photos on Android in the same way Apple supports GIFs in the camera roll, has rolled out a Live Photo editor straight from their Research lab is surprising, but not as much as the obvious effort that has been put into the technology behind Motion Stills: an algorithmically operated virtual steadicam (see GIFs above: Live Photo vs. Motion Stills — refresh to sync) that transforms Live Photos into curious amalgams not unlike a Hyperlapsed cinemagraph.
We pioneered this technology by stabilizing hundreds of millions of videos and creating GIF animations from photo bursts. Our algorithm uses linear programming to compute a virtual camera path that is optimized to recast videos and bursts as if they were filmed using stabilization equipment, yielding a still background or creating cinematic pans to remove shakiness.
Our challenge was to take technology designed to run distributed in a data center and shrink it down to run even faster on your mobile phone. We achieved a 40x speedup by using techniques such as temporal subsampling, decoupling of motion parameters, and using Google Research’s custom linear solver, GLOP. We obtain further speedup and conserve storage by computing low-resolution warp textures to perform real-time GPU rendering, just like in a videogame.
As you'll note in their description above, Motion Still's stabilization and the loop optimization taking place simultaneously, all happen on your device — your photos never touch Google servers — and the results can be near-instantly previewed when thumbing through the app. Cool tech, and as we mentioned, lovely results. The app itself though is as basic as a grilled cheese sandwich — if said grilled cheese sandwich had been soaked in lighter fluid and grilled over a dumpster fire. As of version 1.0, Motion Stills is awkward to navigate, painful to browse through, has some sharing bugs, and is currently very uncooperative with iCloud (for those using "Optimize iPhone Storage" in the Photos & Camera settings), all of which detracts from an otherwise simple workflow:
- Scroll through Live Photos , one large thumbnail at a time.
- Swipe left to hide a Live Photo from Motion Stills (retained in your camera roll).
- Swipe right to add as clip in a new movie (this movie's timeline stays in the app's "dock").
- Tap to see full size preview and adjust toggles for Motion Still's effect and sound.
- Share as a GIF or MOV via the iOS share sheet.
- If making a movie, tap the movie in dock. Rearrange clips if needed by dragging. Share to YouTube or iOS share sheet.
Assuming that future updates are coming, there's nothing so bad in Motion Stills' flaws that one should avoid enjoying its potential aesthetic benefits. Yes, it ships with some bugs. On the other hand Motion Stills is free, easy to use, fast, and at minimum does deliver this: intriguing and ready-to-be-shared GIFs driven by some genuinely clever technology. As odd as it seems, with Motion Stills — it's Google bringing new life to Live Photos.
Motion Stills requires iOS 9.0 or later and is compatible with the iPhone 6s.