by Jim Lynch

Motion Stills: Google’s free app turns Live Photos into GIFs

Jun 08, 2016
Consumer ElectronicsiOSiPhone

Google releases a new app that turns your iPhone 6s or 6s Plus Live Photos into GIFs that loop forever, or you can opt to make them movies. Motion Stills also provides helpful stabilization algorithms.

When Apple released the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, one of the best features on both phones was Live Photos. Live Photos are photos that display three seconds of video if you press down on them on your iPhone.

Google has decided to build on the success of Live Photos by offer its new Motion Stills app. Motion Stills is a free iOS app that lets you turn Live Photos into GIFs that loop forever, and you can also turn your Motion Stills into movies by combining them with a swipe in the app.

Here’s the official description of Motion Stills from the iOS App Store:

Photos are an extension of our memories, and our memories are never still. Motion Stills is a pilot from Google that brings your Live Photos back to life with advanced stabilization and rendering. Turn your photos into GIFs that loop forever, or edit them together into epic movies.

Turn your Live Photos into cinematic and beautiful Motion Stills with Google’s stabilization technology.

Share your Motion Stills as looping GIFs directly in your favorite messaging app.

Browse through your Live Photos stream, or flip through one-by-one and watch them auto-play.

Create epic movies by combining your Motion Stills together with just a swipe.

More at the iOS App Store

motion stills app iphone

And the Google Research Blog has details on how the Motion Stills app works:

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.

Short videos are perfect for creating loops, so we added loop optimization to bring out the best in your captures. Our approach identifies optimal start and end points, and also discards blurry frames. As an added benefit, this fixes “pocket shots” (footage of the phone being put back into the pocket).

To keep the background steady while looping, Motion Stills has to separate the background from the rest of the scene. This is a difficult task when foreground elements occlude significant portions of the video, as in the example below. Our novel method classifies motion vectors into foreground (red) and background (green) in a temporally consistent manner. We use a cascade of motion models, moving our motion estimation from simple to more complex models and biasing our results along the way.

More at Google Research Blog

Apple redditors react to Google’s Motion Stills app

News about Google’s new Motion Stills app hit the Apple subreddit, and folks there weren’t shy about sharing their opinions:

Pandofernando: “Here’s to hoping iOS 10 will bring GIF compatibility to the Photos app.”

BabysGotTheBends: “Very cool! Works great on my iPhone.”

Sheepple: “Once again Google makes the iPhone better. Thanks Google!”

Evildesi: “…it’s more more than just turning live (or burst) photos into a gif. It’s also applying stabilization algorithms. This is something apple should have added to live photos from the start.”

BabysGotTheBends: “I have the 6S+ and a lot of the Live Photos are shaky as hell. When I look at the same through this app everything is smooth. It’s pretty impressive.”

Sciencetaco: “This app, like most of Google’s app releases, is just a pilot program to gauge interest and test the technology. It will either be abandoned in a year or integrated into other google services.”

Bram1et: “The app won’t recognize live photos that I’ve taken in the past. It works for the ones I’ve taken after installing this app (which is pretty cool). Anyone else having this issue? Disclaimer, i have backup to iCloud enabled for my photos.”

Metalhaze: “In Apple’s Photos app, you might need to tap on them to download them to your device….It might only work for ones that are stored locally on your phone and not the ones sitting in iCloud.”

Cloudwalking: “They updated the app description, looks like icloud is broken / not supported yet. ”

Bram1et: “I see, thanks. In the meantime a work around I’ve found is to Duplicate the live photo you want access to and it’ll show up in the app.”

More at Reddit

Will Apple incorporate Motion Stills features into iOS 10?

Google seems to have done a pretty good job with Motion Stills. While it’s still early and the app needs some tweaks, it looks like it’s off to a good start.

I have no doubt that it has probably caught Apple’s attention by now, and it will be very interesting to see if the company adds similar features into the Photos app in iOS 10. Apple may have already had plans to do so for quite a long time, but we’ll find out very soon.

For now the folks that want the features offered by Motion Stills will have to stick with Google’s app. And so far most people seem pretty happy with it.

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