It’s time for another rant. As you might be well aware of, I’ve been a big fan of the Korean video editing app KineMaster (available for Android and iOS/iPadOS) which was the first video editor on Android that could actually be described as fairly „advanced“ – at least when judging it by mobile app standards. It launched in December 2013 and I still remember praising it in a presentation at the original MoJoCon event in Dublin in 2015. The UI was absolutely brilliant for touch screen use, it had a rich set of features to work with and it was also widely available for basically all Android devices. But ever since the original lead engineer and some team members left the company in 2017, development of the app has become very sluggish and mostly disappointing. Even darker clouds in terms of user experience have been accumulating over the last months…

Let’s start with a rather small gripe but one that for me seems indicative of how a once brilliant UI/UX can be marred: For many many years KineMaster had a completely horizontal user interface so you always had to hold your phone in landscape mode after firing up the app. In an ideal world, particularly one that now also prominently features vertically oriented videos, it would have been possible to have a UI that can be switched between a horizontal and vertical layout. While I think that it’s a bit annoying but somewhat forgivable that KineMaster still doesn’t have an option for a vertical UI in the editing workspace, it’s absolutely ridiculous that the main menu screen is now exclusively in vertical orientation. This means that you always have to change how to hold the phone when going from the project menu screen into the editing workspace. You could argue that before, you also had to do that when opening the app (because you were holding the phone in portrait mode) but from a UX point, it’s different in my opinion because once you are inside the app, it should give you a unified experience.

But let’s move on to some more important things…

One of the positive aspects I really liked about KineMaster in addition to the app itself was the good communication I had with the dev team and its lead, Matthew Feinberg. You always had the feeling that feedback and feature suggestions were taken very seriously and often, improvements were implemented pretty fast (of course on a platform like Android, it’s a challenge to make sure a new feature runs smoothly across the spectrum of devices). One could definitely tell that the app was getting even better and better over the years, maturing more and more. Unfortunately, ever since Matthew left KineMaster, progress has been painfully slow. Yes, they introduced more aspect ratios (vertical, square etc.) and the project package feature was finally implemented but other than that, really useful improvements have been absent and individual communication is lacking. Instead, lots of – in my humble opinion – unnecessary stuff like the „Mix“ tab have been added, cluttering the app. And worse: Good stuff has been taken away. There used to be the option to set a default mode for when adding a video layer (long press on the option) which was extremely useful for editors who wanted to do classic a/b roll editing where the overlay seamlessly goes on top of the clip in the main video track. It’s gone now and every time you add a video layer you need to select the desired split screen option or resize manually – this can be extremely annoying.

And talking about things turning out for the worse… While KineMaster originally used to be a very affordable one-off payment of around 2 EUR, they introduced a subscription model later on but kept a free version with most of the features, only sporting a watermark in the exported video as a major caveat. There were small ads in the blank space of the timeline but it wasn’t very intrusive. Sure, I personally paid for the subscription because I really liked the app and wanted to have a clean export without watermark, but it was just great for beginners and students to start exploring and using the app without having to front a payment. These times are over! If you are using the free version, you get constantly bombarded with mega-intrusive full screen ads along the editing process, sometimes also with extremely loud audio – it’s a nightmare!

Oh well, you might say, why not just get a subscription? I used to have one and it was reasonably priced (around 25 EUR per year) and absolutely worth it but last year they suddenly bumped up the price to around 160 EUR (!!!), I kid you not. They are currently advertising a 50% discount but even that’s over three times as much as it used to be. That’s just insane by itself and even more so considering there’s been no additional value recently given how development has stalled.

In addition to the already mentioned fact that key figures of the original developer team are not with KineMaster anymore, here’s a little bit of more recent company history that might shed some light on these troubling developments: In December 2021, it became public that KineMaster Corp. (a publicly traded company in Korea) was in talks with some potentially high-profile buyers regarding a takeover. In May 2022, it transpired that talks weren’t successful and the stock price fell by 30% in a single day (check out this article by The Korea Times). Of course, if you want to sell your company, you are trying to make it look good for investors and how better to do this than by maximizing profits? I suppose a little increase in the subscription price combined with cut backs in development expenses could do the trick, no? The Korea Times article points out that after takeover talks had failed, KineMaster’s CEO Il-Taek Lim actually promised to focus more on the app’s use instead of its profitability. It’s also interesting to read that Lim “also vowed to distribute the KineMaster video-editing app for free for a while to counteract TikTok’s free video-editing app, CapCut”. KineMaster had already been free to download since the introduction of the subscription model (however including a watermark on export), but maybe he was planning to offer free use without the watermark? We’ll never know I guess, because unfortunately Lim passed away last fall unexpectedly (mentioned in articles in Korean here, here and here) and the remaining executives and majority shareholders don’t seem to have any viable commitment or expertise in further developing and improving the app. They probably just want to make a buck or two and keep the financials attractive to investors/buyers. Not the best prospects for users who cherish the app as an easy to use, very powerful yet also affordable entry into the world of (mobile) video editing and who would love to see the app grow in terms of useful features and usability.

I’ll be honest with you: I really hate to see what has become of KineMaster, I used to have so much fun working with this app, not anymore. The free version is now barely usable thanks to an assault of full screen ads and to get rid of those you have to pay a ridiculous subscription price.

Maybe it was a stroke of fate that just around the time KineMaster started to become a less and less appealing option for powerful yet affordable mobile video editing, LumaFusion finally made it to Android. It works extremely well and it’s a one-off purchase. The introduction price was 19.99 EUR, now it’s 27.99 but worth every cent in my opinion. On a small phone screen for less complex projects I would still prefer KineMaster’s UI (with bigger buttons/UI elements) so I really hope that they will reduce the subscription price drastically again in the future. But until then, LumaFusion is the go-to app on Android for pro mobile video editing.

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