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A.T. Faust III
| April 18, 2012
Apple Needs To Give Us 'Video Screenshots' In iOS
With the sixth-generation iPhone and a potential "iPanel" on the immediate horizon (not to mention some Ivy Bridge iMacs and Airified MacBook Pros), there's an awful lot to look forward to out of Apple R&D 2012. And though I'm in the market for a brand new handset and (27-inch!) desktop upgrade, the thing I really want -- the thing that would finally fulfill several years of active wishing -- is a measly, mere addition to iOS. But I'm not talking about the obvious ones, here. I've made do without those for so long that, should they ever actually be added to the official build, they won't be life-changing game-changers. A proper file manager for photos and created content (so I could, for example, upload a lead image to this post straight through Mobile Safari) would certainly streamline things and make life a bit easier. And being able to simply save email drafts or add in pictures without leaving the default Mail app would be equally welcome. But, like I said, these aren't big deals, and I've already got several efficient workarounds. Indeed, there are lots of little things Apple can still offer in future iOS updates that will continue to tighten the overall package. This and that, here and there, on and on in perpetuity. Like only a precious few things in life, that's both the way it is and the way it should be. However, for all the potentialities, for all the tiny tweaks and fixes that'll keep us talking year after year, there's one that sits so high atop my personal wish-list that it dwarfs anything and everything else I can think of. You know about screenshots, right? I want full video screenshots -- with sound, too! Think about it. More and more, Apple markets iOS as a post-PC replacement platform, a complete -- and completely capable -- content creation engine. And Cupertino's not just blowing smoke, either; iOS in general -- and the iPad in particular -- is becoming a far more robust tool than anyone imagined just a few short years ago. We use our iPhones and iPads for almost everything, so it makes sense for Apple to facilitate our ability to share those experiences. Between screenshots, camera captures, and built-in email, Twitter, and Facebook integration, it's simple and intuitive to share everything iOS. Well, almost everything. I can Tweet about the song I'm rocking and link you to the track in a tick. I can share my Readability archives and show you a pic on a whim. You can hear what I hear, read what I read, see what I see. But without the ability to take video screenshots, it's impossible to transfer the full experience. If you're a seasoned PC gamer -- or familiar with the lauded replay feature introduced in Halo 3 -- you'll already have an idea of exactly what I'm talking about. Imagine: You could save your best launch in Angry Birds to relive down the road, or you could record a simple on-screen how-to for your not-so-savvy friends and family. You could catch the creation of your latest digital painting in all its animated glory and string together app demos and game tutorials for your popular YouTube channel. The real-world applications for a simple video grab feature are practically limitless. Of course, before Apple can implement such functionality, company engineers need to figure out how to set it all up. To make it useful, it would need a simple, straightforward start-stop mechanism. Remember, to take a screenshot in iOS, all you have to do is simultaneously press the Power and Home buttons. Easy peasy! Apple needs to make it just as easy to kick off this video experience. And the toggle needs to be off-screen, too, or else you'd invariably record bits of menu you'd intended to keep out. Maybe "double-click" the Power and Home keys? Or depress and hold them for a couple of seconds? Something like that would work pretty well, and it would appropriately retain and build upon the screenshot mechanic we all know and love and use every day. Whatever the mechanism, once you've initiated the recording session, iOS could display a small red dot in one of the screen's corners. This needn't be transferred to the resulting saved video, but it should be in the live view for obvious reasons. Similarly, you could choose to present said saved video with or without those familiar tap target overlays we've all seen in various demos. And, naturally, the video would auto-rotate as dictated by the content you record. There's nothing at all complex to any of this; the process would be absolutely as foolproof as everything else in iOS. There are a few caveats to consider, though. For one, the video screenshots would require users to manually start recording before capturing any desired content, as there's just no reason to unnecessarily tax the system's memory with a constantly-recording floating chunk (à la your television's DVR). Yes, this might mean you won't be able to save a truly unexpected moment, but 99 percent of the time, a manual start and stop makes the most sense. Also, users will have to plan video duration based on factors like device storage capacity, unused storage space, and desired output quality. Apple could remedy the first two variables by showing a dynamic "time remaining" counter along with the aforementioned red record icon, and the last bit could be a factory-set, one-size-fits-all affair. Still, to be truly useful and cutting edge, Apple would have to let you record at the highest possible resolution. For times when that's not necessary, you should be able to go into Settings and choose your desired output. We'd only need a few options: standard definition, high definiton (1080i or 1080p), and native Retina definition. Overall, video screenshots shouldn't add more than two or three lines to existing iOS options. It really would be a very user-friendly experience. But what about those not-so-user-friendly content publishers you're bound to come across? To cover the copyright and licensing side of things, these tightfisted, paranoid content publishers could opt out of allowing video grabs to take place within their apps. Certain iOS media and entertainment titles already exhibit this sort of behavior in refusing to play nice with AirPlay and Apple TV, and the concept is identical. "Restricted" apps could be displayed in captured video as blacked-out screens, and the live record icon could change to the "no" symbol to hammer home the point. That way, everyone's happy, legal teams are satisfied, and you'll never need to guess about what's fair game and what's off-limits. So that's my proposal, folks. As the iDevice family grows more and more powerful with each yearly revision, I feel it's only a matter of time before Apple gives such an obvious and necessary (and downright entertaining!) recording system the green light. It may not play out exactly as I've imagined, but I imagine it'll play out well enough either way. I just hope Apple's listening. (And jailbreakers, I don't want to hear it!)