Thoughts and Observations on Clips

I'm not someone who shoots video.

Be it Instagram Stories, Periscope, Facebook Live, or even Snapchat, shooting video isn't part of my content creation repertoire. It isn't that I object to video; I'm simply used to sharing still photos. Put another way, I watch video far more than I take it. Indeed, the 12.9” iPad Pro has increasingly become my "television." When I'm not browsing the Web or writing, I spend a ton of time in video-centric apps like YouTube, Netflix, and HBO Now and enjoy myself very much.

The release of Apple's new iOS app, Clips, earlier this month stands to challenge my nascent video-taking endeavors. Clips is all about quickly and easily creating videos that are shareable to a variety of services, notably iMessage. In my time using it, I’ve found Clips to be extremely well done. It’s quirky in places but impressive overall. Clips 1.0 is solid, delivering exactly what Apple is selling. Best of all, Clips is not only fun and easy to use—it’s accessible too.

In lieu of a comprehensive review, what follows are assorted thoughts on Clips. These include functionality, user interface, and especially important to me, accessibility.

Why Clips Exists & What It Does for Me

John Gruber tweeted a perfect description of Clips:

When it was first announced in March, I noticed a lot of people on Twitter proclaim Clips to be Apple’s offensive against Snapchat: an app for creating ephemeral videos replete with filters and the like. Make no mistake, Clips does have a certain Snapchat-like ambiance, what with its collection of filters, title cards, and so on, but I don't believe it's a direct competitor. Instead, I see Clips more akin to iMovie, albeit streamlined. I've seen some pretty creative uses for the app thus far, from how-to videos to hiking journals.

Personally, I have Clips on my iPhone's Home screen because (a) I need to cover it for journalism's sake; and (b) its prime real estate will force me into experimenting with video. For as much as video has eluded me, there's no denying Clips is fun to use. There's a playfulness about it that makes me want to open the app and explore its depths. Clips is well-polished (more on the UI later) and more obvious (to me) than something like Snapchat. Whereas Snapchat's features and layout feel completely alien to me, Clips has a decidedly straightforward feel to it that I grok instantly. This isn't to say the interface is perfect, but that I feel more or less comfortable with Clips is a critical aspect of why the app has appeal. I'm drawn to it because it's approachable.

In practice, the few clips I’ve created so far have been revealing; I am definitely a novice video editor, to say the least. While Clips is fun and easy to pick up, the sheer act of putting together a cool, coherent product has admittedly been somewhat daunting. The biggest learning curve I’ve encountered while testing Clips has been teaching myself the basics of video editing: trimming clips, putting them in a logical order, and adding flourishes like overlays and music. Again, making video isn’t something I’m super familiar with. I’ve had to put myself through a crash course on a subject the majority of YouTubers mastered long ago.

Clips has been my textbook, and I’m learning a lot so far.

On the User Interface

On the whole, Clips’ UI is a win. It’s nice-looking, laid out well, and easy to navigate. And yet, there’s room for improvement.

First, the good.

I love the white-on-dark color scheme. The high contrast, coupled with the size of icons and text, make it easy to spot controls. The big red Record button is especially nice. The effects (Live Titles, title cards, etc) are large and easy to read as well. My favorite, however, are the giant emojis. Whatever private APIs Apple is using here—the share sheet also has custom iMessage buttons for suggested contacts—is wonderful. Like Jason Snell, I wish for iOS’s emoji keyboard to improve; the ginormous emoji picker in Clips is such an improvement over the status quo. I have no problems discerning faces because the emojis are so huge. I wish I had this functionality on the system keyboard today. Maybe in iOS 11. Other niceties include the “X” for removing emoji and speech bubbles, and the way you can move them around by dragging. I also like how you can drag a clip out of the timeline to delete.

Like others, I’ve long wished for iOS to adopt a dark mode; I use it on macOS exclusively. While many third-party apps I use have great dark modes (e.g., Twitter, Ulysses, Overcast), it’d be terrific if Apple supplied one at the OS level. I like to think things like the Apple Watch companion app and now Clips are perhaps harbingers of an eventual system-wide dark mode. While “light modes” don’t necessarily bother me, I almost universally prefer a dark mode, if given the choice. Thus, if the next version of iOS comes with a dark mode, I’d almost certainly switch to it full-time, as I have on the Mac.

Now the bad. There are two things that stand out as irksome.

First, I wish the Help file was more prominent on screen. Right now, you tap the inverted carat and the UI slides down to reveal the ? icon in the top right corner. Accessing Help is easy enough, I suppose, but I would rather it be somewhere on the main view instead of hidden. I reference Help quite often, and it’d be nice to have it more readily available.

Secondly, the way in which you edit Live Titles in Clips is not at all obvious. As the WSJ’s Joanna Stern shows, you have to play a clip, then tap the text to being up the transcription. It’d be nice if there was a little “tool tip” above the text alerting you to the fact you can edit by tapping here. Once you get it, though, it’s no problem. Still, it’s a definite lack of clarity in the UI. Then again, that’s what the Help file is for!

Clips' Accessibility Story

Clips, as with all the software out of One Infinite Loop, is a highly accessible app. As I reported, Clips supports VoiceOver and Switch Control; Luis Perez, an inclusion advocate and accessibility expert, posted a great video in which he demos VoiceOver in Clips. He reports VoiceOver works well in Clips.

Another accessibility feature is something Apple calls Slide to Lock. Designed with users with physical motor impairments in mind, Slide to Lock is a feature whereby a user needn’t physically hold the Record button; instead, sliding to the right “locks” the Record button in a depressed state during recording. I like using the feature out of pure convenience.

While not specifically targeted for accessibility, the Live Titles feature has great potential as an assistive technology in two ways. First, the captions are obviously beneficial to the deaf and hard-of-hearing. FaceTime has made the iPhone very popular with the deaf community, and Live Titles in Clips makes the device even more compelling. For example, a child of a deaf adult could send their parents, say, a birthday greeting, and mom and dad could understand what’s being said because of Live Titles. Secondly, Live Titles is useful as a general purpose captioning system—handy in situations where audio may be inappropriate, the speaker has an accent that may be hard to understand, or to reinforce the audio. As someone who grew up with deaf parents, our TV had a closed-captioning box attached to it. (This was prior to Congress passing the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990, which required manufacturers to build TVs with closed-captioning capability out of the box.) To this day, I enjoy having captioning turned on because I like how reading the text reinforces what’s been said audibly. This bimodal sensory input makes watching TV a more accessible experience to me. This, of course, has relevance to Clips. Live Titles does essentially the same job as captions on a TV.