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Appiphilia: Animoto lets iPhone users create videos in minutes

Camera Van is one take on moving pictures

Some of us iPhone users are pretty bitter that we can't send multimedia messages or shoot video with our devices. But the new app launched today by Animoto might distract us enough for a bit with a different take on moving pictures.

The company has taken its online version of user-generated, automated-yet-customizable videos mobile with Animoto Videos. As iPhone and iPod Touch users snap or tap photos on their devices, they can quickly assemble an impressive video complete with music, after-effects and motion and share it with family and friends via e-mail.

It's more than pictures to music. The company's "cinematic artificial intelligence" analyzes the nuances of the music -- tempo, genre, energy, rhythm, vocals -- and matches the effects and motion of photos to produce what appears as a seamless video. Animoto goes mobile with new iPhone app

Animoto has been offering a fuller version of this online since 2006. CEO and co-founder Brad Jefferson said that he and his partners were bored with the photos that were being shared online. So, they combined that frustration with their experience in animation and video production to create an interface that lets users upload photos and select from royalty-free music provided through a licensing partnership with Rumblefish.

The online version has free and for-fee options. Recreational users can get a 30-second video for free (that's what iPhone users get), pay $3 for a full-length video or pay $30 for a year of an unlimited number of full-length videos. DVD-quality downloads are extra. Commercial users pay $99 for three months or $249 for a year, and the downloads are included.

Jefferson said they have no worries about being able to meet a greater demand as the service branches out to other devices. In July, users of the Animoto Facebook app jumped from 750,000 to 2 million in a week as buzz grew around the service. The demand to render the videos jumped from five a minute to 800 a minute, Jefferson said, and they were able to meet that without any hiccups.

Turning stills into video, Jefferson said, enhances the user experience of life's snapshots -- monumental, trivial or just memorable. "We really see Animoto as an on-demand video platform," he said.

He even used it himself for an event in the monumental category: the birth of his first child this year. As a proud papa, he snapped tons of photos. And as mother and baby slept four hours after delivery, he uploaded them, selected some music and "that was literally how our birth announcement was sent out," he said. The president of the company, Jason Hsiao, used an Animoto-generated video as a touching and creative marriage proposal.

Among the uses gaining popularity: reliving action on the field, whether it's replaying the highlights of a Little League game for Grandma and Grandpa on a computer screen or, eventually, a crowd of thousands of fans at a professional sporting event on the JumboTron, Jefferson said. 

Even though the iPhone app is only about a day old, Jefferson said they're already looking at how to improve it. There are many features of the online version that users of the app will soon be clamoring for, including more sharing options. IPhone and iPod users should expect better integration with the online version to be phased in, as well as the ability to play videos offline on their devices within the next three weeks or so.

The ultimate plan? "The death of clicking next, next, next" through photo albums and galleries, Jefferson said, possibly to the dismay of some still photographers -- and maybe some websites.

Read our review of the app...

Animoto Videos for iPhone Animoto (free)

What it is: IPhone and iPod Touch users can produce slick videos using photos on their devices.

What sizzles: As a video producer in a former life, I was honestly blown away at the quality of the video produced. I was expecting a slideshow over music, in a typically disconnected composition. For being automated, the video produced is quite sophisticated and individual. The edits and effects are appropriate to the music's pacing and personality.

Selection and import of the eight to 16 photos is literally just a tap, and you select the order in which they appear. With a Wi-Fi connection, the photos upload to the server fairly quickly, and the render, for what you get, takes no time at all. Once the photos are uploaded, you can leave the app. The rendering takes place on the server, not the device.

What fizzles: The 30-second limit just whets your appetite. Sixteen photos in 30 seconds flies by frustratingly fast.

It does take a bit of prompting to get through the process. And if you leave the app, or if your screen goes to sleep mode, the process is paused until you return. I guess the fact that it doesn't completely lose your project is still a positive.

You have to use Wi-Fi. So, while wireless and mobile, you're still somewhat tethered. I tried it over EDGE and my phone just gave up. It took 15 minutes to upload five pictures.

The video is streamed from Animoto's servers. It would be ideal to be able to save it to your device, among your other media. But maybe that's still to come.

Bottom line: Although I'm more prone to raise an eyebrow than immediately join the chorus when Michael Arrington starts to gush, I fully agree that this app is a must-have.

-- Michelle Maltais

Photo: Camera van. Credit: gomattolson via Flickr.

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