Simplicity is the very essence of the animated GIF. The format offers up all the goodness of a video clip in a file that’s as easy to view, share, and distribute as any regular old photo. The freshly redesigned Loopcam, a free app for the iPhone, brings the GIF’s sweet simplicity to the other side of the equation, making them as easy to create as they are to enjoy.
From their lowly beginnings in the animated banner ad biz, GIFs have become ubiquitous on the web. They can be found embedded in our beloved TV recaps, replaying key scenes ad infinitum; they’re used for getting right to the point of YouTube’s more meandering clips (that is, the precise moment when somebody is hurting themselves in an amusing manner) and, earlier this month, they became the format du jour for reliving the best moments from this year’s summer Olympics--from the stuck landings to the, well, not-so-stuck landings.
At this point, there’s no shortage of apps that can create GIFs, but Loopcam was one of the first on the scene and it succeeded because it adhered strictly to that central GIF tenet: simplicity. The app just got a full redesign, including a new built-in social network a la Instagram, but it’s still as easy to use as ever. Fire it up, login with Facebook or Twitter, and you’re ready to go. The main screen shows a live view of your iPhone’s camera (front or back) and gives you two options for creating GIFs: you can either tap on the screen to capture individual frames, allowing for neat, stop motion-style clips, or you can just mash down on the screen with your finger for a few seconds, capturing up to 50 frames of activity rapid fire. The former’s better for making your earbuds come to life and wriggle into the shape of a heart to send to your girlfriend; the latter’s better for trying to record your roommate balancing his gerbil on his head. You can then post the resulting GIF to various social media sites, send it around as an email attachment or copy it to your clipboard for delivery via iMessage (in the current version of iOS, GIFs get animated in the thumbnail view but only show a single sad frame when you open them full-size. Boo!)
Tor Rauden Källstigen, the Berlin-based developer behind the app, told me that Loopcam’s ease of use was, in many ways, its defining feature: "Loopcam was the first service to intuitively let people use the gif-format for expressing their own creative voice. It’s still the only one that’s truly fast and direct in it’s handling. Put Loopcam in grandma’s hands — and she’ll be able to keep up with the kids on that random Tumblr blog. This kind of democracy in technology is what drives us."
And as for the GIFs popularity in general? "We’re living in a world where snack sized entertainment is king," Rauden Källstigen told me, "and that’s why people stick to this kind of format."
He’s right, and I’d be surprised if the animated GIF disappeared anytime soon. But I’m still not sure I want my grandma following my Tumblr. You can grab Loopcam for free in the App Store.