Ever since Facebook announced its $1 billion acquisition of the company behind the popular photo-sharing app Instagram last month, the question on every nerd’s lips has been: What will be the next big thing in mobile apps?
For many, the answer is video. Apps like Viddy and Socialcam have picked up steam, gaining users—including pop stars Justin Bieber and Britney Spears—who are shooting and sharing videos with others within the apps and on social networks. Like Instagram, many of these apps also include a number of effects you can use to give your videos an edge, such as filters and background music.
And with the upcoming unveiling of Airtime, a stealth social video startup from Napster cofounders Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, it’s clear that the medium is on the rise.
With this in mind, I reviewed a number of quickly growing video-sharing apps. All are free and let you share your creations with friends in several different ways. Odds are slim you’ll use one of these to create a prize-winning film, but chances are you’ll have fun developing your inner auteur.
Availability: Android and iPhone
Sharing: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Posterous, Tumblr, Dropbox, e-mail, and SMS
Socialcam is like having a little video-sharing studio in your pocket. And unlike a number of other apps I’ve tried, this one doesn’t limit video length (though, if your videos are anything like mine, there may be limits to your audience’s patience).
The app includes filters which you can swipe through to choose before filming, including the flashback-inducing “Grunge” and Tron-like “Electronica.” Once you’ve shot your masterpiece, you can pick a theme for it (essentially, a title page that introduces the video) and a soundtrack from a variety of cheesy-sounding prerecorded tunes. You can post it to numerous social networks, as well as YouTube and Dropbox.
As its name suggests, Socialcam is very social. You can follow other users or tag those who appear in your videos. Like other apps I tested, you can also respond to videos, “like” them, or share them with others. If you want, Socialcam will automatically push all these actions to Facebook and tweet about the ones you like on Twitter. And the app has more ways to share your videos than any other I tried. So many choices can make the app’s interface feel too crowded, though.
Availability: iPhone only
Sharing: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, e-mail, and SMS
Short clips are the main event on Viddy, where each video you take can be a maximum of 15 seconds.
Like Socialcam, Viddy is full of features. A handy on-screen sound meter lets you keep an eye on volume, and an optional timer will count down several seconds before the app begins filming. You can lock the white balance, exposure, and focus. When you’ve finished taking a video, you can change its look by adding a filter (the app comes with several, and you can download a number of others, most of which are free and some of which are celebrity-endorsed). Each filter has its own soundtrack that you can adjust or turn off, but I mostly found the tunes distracting.
I liked the ability to adjust the strength of a filter, which is useful if, say, you’re using Snoop Dogg’s official smoke-filled one but only want a hint of haze. It does take some time for Viddy to process adjustments, though, so while you can immediately see a thumbnail of the movie, you’ll have to wait a bit to watch it all the way through after doing any editing.
There are plenty of ways to share your videos and interact with other Viddy users and with your friends, and you can tag users, places, and things in your clips. Once you configure social networks like Facebook and Twitter, a little green circle will appear next to that network’s icon—tap to make it red if you don’t want your video shared on that particular site.
Availability: iPhone only
Sharing: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and e-mail
This addictive app allows you to turn a short video clip into an animated GIF that’s part still image, part lively video. You take a short video, choose a few seconds of it, and Cinemagram will show you a still image of the first frame of the clip. You then use your finger to shade in the portion of the screen you want to animate (you can zoom in to do more precise editing).
For example, if you shoot a video of a friend dancing in the sunlight, then highlight only their shadow, you’ll create a still shot of the person with just their shadow boogieing over and over. You can also add filters to your creations, ranging from simple black-and-white or sepia to various washed-out tints, and enable automatic sharing on social networks like Twitter and Facebook.
It takes a bit of practice—and creativity—to come up with compelling Cinemagrams, but the results can be impressive and haunting. I came up with a still shot of boats with a tiny bird flying by as well as a frozen skateboarder’s disembodied legs grinding on a granite slab in a local park. I was happy to share them with friends on Facebook and Twitter. And it was fun to scroll through the latest Cinemagrams created by other users, like one that showed a woman seemingly leaping in and out of a purse sitting on a desk, and another that showed two girls standing motionless with their hands out in front of them while their shadows played a game of patty-cake.
Availability: Android and iPhone
Sharing: Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and SMS
Like Viddy, Tout lets users take 15-second videos. But the appeal here is actually the lack of frills, which makes it very simple to quickly share clips with your friends. With Tout, there are no filters to choose, and you can’t use the iPhone’s digital zoom. You simply shoot your video while a little on-screen clock counts down the seconds to zero. After recording a clip, you can add a note to describe it, choose a social network to share it on, or e-mail a link to your friends.
Within the Tout app, you can check out other users’ publicly posted videos, either by looking at what’s currently popular or searching for a specific word. And while you can’t post text comments in response to others’ videos, you can reply with a video of your own.
One thing to keep in mind, which I figured out the hard way after accidentally posting a test clip to Twitter: You can’t delete published Touts from the app—it must be done by logging into the Tout website.