smartfilming

Exploring the possibilities of video production with smartphones

#20 Closing the Window of Opportunity – Farewell to Windows Phone — 8. January 2020

#20 Closing the Window of Opportunity – Farewell to Windows Phone

My personal Windows Phone / Windows 10 Mobile device collection: Microsoft Lumia 550, Nokia Lumia 630, Nokia Lumia 920, Microsoft Lumia 950.

If you are reading this, there’s a chance you might at least have heard about a mobile operating system called Windows Phone even though you never came close to owning a device running it. But there’s also a chance you never knew such a thing existed so let me just very briefly recapitulate.

Ever since Microsoft had built its quasi-monopoly in terms of an operating system for personal desktop computers and laptops with Windows, many assumed that they would have a good chance of utilizing this might in the emerging field of increasingly potent mobile phones with more complex operating systems. But that didn’t really happen. While Microsoft did introduce the Windows CE-based „Windows Mobile“ for pocketable computing devices in the early days of the 21st century, the real revolution in this market would only happen years later with the arrival of Apple’s iPhone. In a now infamous statement during an interview with USA Today in 2007, Microsoft’s then-CEO Steve Ballmer was extremely skeptical about Apple’s first phone: „There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.“ Things turned out slightly different as we all know today. While Apple with iOS and soon after Google with Android went all-in on mobile touch-screen operating systems for smartphones, Microsoft hesitated for a long time – too long as history would tell. When they finally came out with Windows Phone 7 (the „7“ picking up from earlier OS versions under the „Windows Mobile“ moniker) in 2010 they were three years late to the party and never managed to catch up again despite occasional glimpses of hope. One, maybe THE crucial factor for failure was the fact that many popular 3rd party apps were not available for Microsoft’s platform or only in versions inferior to those on Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. The acquisition of Nokia’s mobile phone division in 2014, a tighter integration with its desktop OS Windows 10 in the form of Windows 10 Mobile in 2015 and the app porting projects “Astoria” (Android) and “Islandwood” (iOS) were last desperate attempts to turn the tide but to no avail. Satya Nadella taking over from Steve Ballmer as CEO in 2014 also meant Microsoft reevaluated its business strategy and philosophy to concentrate on platform-independent services instead of pushing their own platform. In October 2017 a Microsoft executive revealed that they would cease development of new features and hardware for the platform, in January 2019 the company announced that software support for Windows 10 Mobile will end December 10, eventually postponing the date to January 14 2020 which will be next week.

End of life, end of story?

So why would I now bother to write about Windows Phone / Windows 10 Mobile when it’s being lowered into the virtual „cybergrave“ right now? Does anyone care at all? While I do assume that many will not have exactly waited for someone to do this, I consider Microsoft’s passing mobile OS to be worth a look in retrospect because not only was it a really refreshing alternative to Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android in terms of design but it actually had quite a bit of potential as a platform for mobile content creation in my opinion – potential that was wasted or got lost along the way, that is.

Mobile photographers livin’ the Lumia dream

Nokia Lumia 1020.
Nokia Lumia 1020 in bright yellow. (Photo Credit: Kārlis Dambrāns)

The Windows Phone device that single-handedly put the platform on the map for mobile content creation was without a doubt the Nokia Lumia 1020 which launched in the summer of 2013. Sporting a six-element lens array by Carl Zeiss with a whopping 41 (!) MP sensor to go along, optical image stabilization, a full set of manual controls for photography, a dedicated shutter button and (added via software update a bit later) the ability to shoot in RAW/DNG, the 1020 was a dream come true for mobile photographers, outshining pretty much everything the iPhone or Android handsets had to offer at that time. There weren’t any advanced photo editing apps around in the Windows Phone Store but as long as your focus was on the capturing experience this didn’t really matter much.

What’s with the video?

Things weren’t quite as impressive in the videography department however. Sure, the spectacular 41MP sensor was a very early example of how a photo camera megapixel „overkill“ could be utilized to provide a quasi-lossless digital zoom for video which only needed a small fraction of the 41MP prowess when recording in 1080p resolution. But while you had a pro mode with advanced manual controls for photography at hand, there wasn’t an equivalent for video – the fact that this asymmetrical feature distribution is still the standard with 99% of smartphones today isn’t really an excuse. The common simplicity and bare-bones functionality of most native camera apps doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel for more ambitious videography work with your phone as long as 3rd party apps fill the gap but that’s exactly the point where we touch upon a sore spot with Windows Phone.

Video mode UI of ProShot on a Lumia 550. In addition to white balance presets and manual focus, an audio level meter and shutter speed / ISO control is available.

Up until very late in the game, when ProShot added video functionality to its advanced camera app for Windows 10 Mobile in the second half of 2016 there was not a single 3rd party video camera app in the Windows Phone store that provided a robust set of manual controls like ISO and shutter speed to set a precise exposure. You couldn’t even lock the exposure for video in any of the camera apps with video functionality. It wasn’t all bad though, there were some lights in the dark. I never owned a Lumia 1020 but had a 920 for over a year as my daily driver and I was pleased to find out that the native camera app supported the use of external mics via the headphone jack which is often an indispensable feature when using the phone for professional video work.

Video mode UI of the native camera app on the Lumia 950. White balance presets, manual focus and exposure compensation are available – but no exposure lock or precise shutter speed / ISO adjustment.

Another beacon (at least for folks residing in regions which use the PAL broadcast standard) was the ability of Lumia Camera (which was a separate app from the stock camera but could be considered an advanced native camera app) to shoot video in 25fps and not only the standard 30fps that is common for the native camera app of basically every single smartphone on the planet. Unfortunately, Lumia Camera did not support the use of external mics while the stock camera app did not support shooting in 25fps so if you needed both (and many did) you were out of luck. There could have been a happy ending to this when the Windows Phone native camera and Lumia Camera were merged into one app (I think they dubbed it „Windows Camera“) for the new Windows 10 Mobile. You now had white balance presets, manual focus and basic exposure adjustment (but only EV, not precise shutter speed / ISO values, and still no exposure lock!) at hand, plus PAL frame rate support. Devices running Windows 10 Mobile (at least the Lumias) were the only smartphones able to shoot in 25fps natively without the help of 3rd party apps. Up until this very day this has not been possible on any phone running Android or iOS! But incomprehensibly, the fusion of the two camera apps dropped the support for external mics (at least that’s what I found on the Lumia 950 and 550) despite the fact that it was still working in a Windows 10 Mobile preview version I ran on a Lumia 630 before the final release apparently killed it off. As mentioned before, ProShot (which had been a photo camera only for a long time) eventually added a video mode with a lot of pro features like precise shutter speed / ISO exposure control, an audio level meter and support for external mics. But it basically did so at a time when the MS Windows 10 Mobile had already hit the iceberg.

Windows Phone = Lumia?

If you are wondering at this moment why I have been only talking about Lumia devices in the context of Windows Phone and if Lumia phones basically equal Windows Phones you are both right and wrong. Yes, there were other companies than Nokia (and later Microsoft itself): Samsung, HTC, Acer, Blu and HP were among those launching phones running Microsoft’s mobile OS but their support for Windows Phone was very sparse and short-lived so it’s pretty hard to imagine that when someone talks about a „Windows Phone“ device now they are not referring to a Lumia phone.

It’s also undisputed that it were the Lumia flagships following the pioneering work of the Nokia Lumia 1020 which gave Windows Phone its reputation with mobile camera enthusiasts: photos and video footage from devices like the Lumia 920, 930, 950 and 950 XL were able to go head-to-head with iPhones and high-end Android handsets in terms of image quality. So why did Windows Phone fail to establish itself as a viable alternative for mobile content creation with smartphones?

Minding the app gap

Yes, we’re back talking about apps again. While the hardware was competitive (at least in certain cases), the software – or to be more precise: the software eco system wasn’t really compared to the other two dominant mobile platforms. I already pointed out that there was a serious lack of advanced 3rd party camera apps for video (FilmicPro actually ran a crowd funding campaign for a Windows Phone version once, it failed miserably) but the problems were not only confined to the capturing experience, they were just as imminent for post production.

UI of Movie Maker 8.1
UI of Videoshop

While Windows Phone 8.1 can actually be considered a huge step forward for the platform in terms of having any kind of video editing app available at all (apparently up until WP 8 the OS had prevented 3rd party apps from integrating even basic video editing tasks into their apps), seeing the launch of apps like Movie Maker 8.1, Videoshop (which turned out to become the only video editor available across all three major mobile platforms), MovieJax and the frustratingly short-lived Movie Creator Beta, they were all relatively basic – none of them offered a second video track for instance. That being said, they did allow you to create and produce a simple video story by adding several clips to a timeline, trim off unwanted parts, add audio like voice-over and very basic titles. But those who had hoped that this first wave of usable video editors would mature or bring about even more advanced ones over time eventually had to admit that their optimism wasn’t justified. The problems of a thin and often quality-lacking eco system in general which got caught up in a vicious circle involving poor sales figures and lacklustre involvement of app developers had a direct impact on the special case of using Windows Phone as a platform for mobile content creation.

You can still get things done!

That didn’t prevent some daring creators from using Windows Phone devices for actual professional videography however, tapping into its strengths while working around the shortcomings. I particularly want to highlight the work of Dutch/Frisian mobile journalist Wytse Vellinga who for some time used a Lumia 930 to produce news reports for the regional broadcaster Omrop Fryslan. Here are some fine examples:

Another example is by Croatian videographer Darko Flajpan who’s working for the national broadcaster HRT and also used a Lumia 930 as a main camera for a whole documentary, here’s the trailer:

To learn something about their personal experience working with Windows Phone in a professional context, I asked them a couple of short questions for the purpose of this article.

Q1: Why did you consider working with a Windows Phone at all?

Wytse Vellinga: “Windows Phone had the best camera quality on any smartphone in those days. And the fact that it could shoot 25fps with the native camera app was extremely helpful for me as a broadcast journalist.”

Darko Flajpan: “Windows Phone (Lumia 1020 in particular) got my attention at the time because of camera capabilities. It was a photo/video beast at that moment and still respectful even today. And with a battery grip which had a tripod thread and a shutter button it was the perfect tool for early MoJos. Also, it had 25fps which was very helpful for later editing and broadcasting. I’ve switched to Lumia 930 as soon it was released and with usable 4K@25fps it was unmatched in the smartphone world. So hardware was top notch and OS was quite polished and user friendly. The price of those smartphones was also on a fair side. I still have couple of 930s…”

Q2: What were the main challenges?

Wytse Vellinga: “The main challenges were the lack of good third party apps. There was no good editor, nor was there an app for making radio reports. And as the years progressed it didn’t get better but it got worse.”

Darko Flajpan: “Main challenges were on the software side. There were just two apps for video editing and those were buggy and not user friendly, so for any editing you had to transfer footage to a laptop. Lack of any support from Google (e.g. no official YouTube app) was quite irritating. On the hardware side, Microsoft never made a tiny bit of code to allow mic input to be used by a camera – for me that was huge.”

Q3: Why did Windows Phone fail in the end in your opinion?

Wytse Vellinga: “Because of what I just said. The lack of apps and the lack of support for those that wanted to build apps. It almost looked like Microsoft did not believe in their own platform.”

Darko Flajpan: “Third party developers were focused on higher value markets (iOS, Android), and Microsoft was not making an effort to attract them. From my point of view Microsoft had no clear strategy for smartphones. Brilliant engineers from Nokia (I’ve met a couple of them) were frustrated how Microsoft treated them – they’ve created great hardware and had just frustrations and lack of support from Microsoft’s side. Now, they are working for Apple and Chinese manufacturers.”

Q4: Do you think there’s any space left between Android and iOS for a third major mobile OS?

Wytse Vellinga: “There is always room for something new. iOS and Android are not perfect so there is room for improvement. But you will have to invest a lot of time and energy in getting app builders on board.”

Darko Flajpan: “This is very complex. If someone creates anything better and more attractive to consumers it will be bought, obstructed or destroyed by the two major players in its very early stage, that is my, not optimistic opinion.”

Finally, I would also like to share a short proof-of-concept video story I created using only the low-budget Lumia 550 (cost me about 50 Euro in used condition), shooting with its native camera app and editing with Videoshop. So it was completely produced on the mobile device. Notice: The Lumia 550 is only able to shoot 720p HD (not 1080p FHD) so the video has the same resolution.

“Slide down to power off”

It’s hard to imagine a more serious focus on mobile content creators alone could have made Windows Phone / Windows 10 Mobile a viable success story but it’s frustrating nonetheless looking back at the undeniable but underdeveloped potential of the platform and the devices that came with it. Fairly recently, Microsoft announced its return to the smartphone market: The long-lasting rumors about a supposed „Surface Phone“ will apparently materialize in the form of the Surface Duo smartphone in 2020. This will however only be a comeback in terms of hardware – the device is supposed to run on Android. So what was your experience with Windows Phone? Did you even know it existed? Did you ever use it and if so did you like it? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on the Twitter @smartfilming.

#9 Android-App-Liste zur Medienproduktion mit Smartphones — 23. February 2018

#9 Android-App-Liste zur Medienproduktion mit Smartphones

English preface to this post: Post #9 was supposed to be the 2nd part of the article about native camera apps but something came up so I’m squeezing another one in before delivering the sequel to #8. The reason is an event that’s happening today, February 23rd 2018, in Bochum, Germany: “MoJo Meeting” (Twitter: @MoJoMeeting), a (first time) gathering for the German/German-speaking “MoJo” community (“MoJo” = “Mobile Journalism”), hosted by the NRW Media Lab. While I’m unfortunately not able to participate in person, I have used this occasion to finally finish my extensive and fairly detailed Android app list for multimedia production that I had been working on for quite a while. A 15-page-pdf of the list will be downloadable from this post but the current list is in German. However I’m planning to make an English language version of this list available within the next few weeks.

Nun also noch einmal auf Deutsch: Eigentlich hätte Post #9 der zweite Teil des Artikels über native Kamera-Apps werden sollen, doch aufgrund des kurzfristig anberaumten “MoJo Meeting” in Bochum, welches am heutigen 23. Februar 2018 stattfindet, habe ich mich dazu entschlossen, einen anderen Beitrag hier einzuschieben – zur Abwechslung auch mal wieder in deutscher Sprache. Das “MoJo Meeting” (Twitter: @MoJoMeeting, Hashtag: #MoJoMeeting) ist ein (erstmaliges) Treffen für die deutsche/deutsch-sprachige “MoJo”-Community (“MoJo” = “Mobile Journalism”), das im NRW Media Lab in Bochum stattfindet. Zwar kann ich aus terminlichen Gründen nicht persönlich am MoJo Meeting teilnehmen, doch habe ich die Veranstaltung kurzerhand zum Anlass genommen, meine umfangreiche und detaillierte Android-App-Liste für Medienproduktion auf Smartphones, an der ich schon eine ganze Weile gewerkelt habe, endlich fertigzustellen und somit zumindest aus der Ferne einen kleinen Beitrag zu leisten. Neben der bloßen Auflistung der Apps gibt es noch zusätzliche Informationen, warum ich die App als nützlich betrachte, welche wichtigen Features enthalten sind, wo es noch hakt bzw. was es zu beachten gilt, wie es mit der allgemeinen Verfügbarkeit der App für Android-Geräte aussieht und welche Kosten auf einen zukommen. Die Liste ist selbstverständlich nur eine persönliche Auswahl ohne Allgemeingültigkeitsanspruch und nicht auf ewig in Stein gemeisselt. Gerade auf der Android-Plattform sind viele Faktoren ständig in Bewegung. Noch ein abschließender Hinweis: es ist durchaus möglich, dass sich bei der Masse an Material Tipp- oder auch inhaltliche Fehler eingeschlichen haben, die ich zu entschuldigen bitte. Korrektur-Hinweise nehme ich gerne in den Kommentaren, per eMail (smartfilming(at)live.com) oder auf Twitter (@smartfilming) entgegen. Hier nun aber die Liste zum Download als pdf, viel Spaß!

Android-App-List by smartfilming

Im Übrigen wünsche ich allen Organisatoren und Teilnehmern des MoJo Meeting eine spannende und erfolgreiche Veranstaltung, die sich hoffentlich in der ein oder anderen Form auch langfristig etablieren kann.

 

 

#1 Schnitt im Schritt oder: Die faszinierende Idee eines Hosentaschenvideostudios — 28. June 2015

#1 Schnitt im Schritt oder: Die faszinierende Idee eines Hosentaschenvideostudios

WP_20150628_13_08_32_Pro
iPod Touch (2. Generation) mit ReelDirector-App

Im Jahr 2009 kaufte ich mir für das Studium, bzw. genauer gesagt für meine neben dem Studium betriebenen Videoarbeiten meinen ersten iMac. Im Rahmen eines Back-to-School-Angebots gab es damals einen iPod Touch (2. Generation) gratis dazu, vermutlich weil die 3. Generation kurz vor dem Release stand und Apple die frisch veraltete Hardware noch irgendwie unters Volk bringen wollte. Das iPhone war zu diesem Zeitpunkt etwa 2 Jahre auf dem Markt, ich persönlich hatte daran allerdings kein sonderliches Interesse, vor allem der extrem hohe Preis für ein Mobiltelefon schreckte mich ab. Das mobile Internet war mir aus WAP-Zeiten noch etwas suspekt, der größte Reiz bestand damals für mich darin, unterwegs Filme zu schauen, die man sich auf das Geräte geladen hatte. Nun, das ließ sich auch mit meinem neu erworbenen iPod Touch bewerkstelligen, schließlich war dieser mehr oder weniger ein iPhone ohne Telefonfunktion. Nach einer kurzen „Wow“-Phase mit dem Hosentaschenkino landete das gute Teil jedoch recht schnell in einer Schublade, aus der ich es lediglich in sehr unregelmäßigen Abständen wieder hervorholte.

Zeitsprung. Ende 2011 stieß ich durch Zufall im Internet auf die Info, dass es Apples Einsteiger-Videoschnittprogramm iMovie mittlerweile auch für das mobile Betriebssystem iOS gab, genau gesagt seit Juni 2010. Videoschnitt unterwegs mit einem Gerät, das man in der Hosentasche immer dabei haben kann? Wie verrückt ist das denn bitte? Gespannt wie ein Flitzebogen kramte ich natürlich sofort meinen iPod Touch wieder hervor und versuchte die App zu installieren. Leider ohne Erfolg, man benötigte mindestens iOS 5, welches sich aber auf meinem iPod Touch-Oldtimer nicht mehr installieren ließ. Also machte ich mich auf die Suche nach alternativen Apps für den mobilen Videoschnitt. Während sich Splice (erschienen Ende Dezember 2010) bedauerlicherweise ebenfalls aus technischen Gründen nicht installieren ließ, hatte ich schließlich mit der App ReelDirector Glück. Diese App darf retrospektiv als eine Art „Vater des Hosentaschenvideoschnitts“ bezeichnet werden, sie kam ursprünglich im Oktober 2009 auf den Markt. Natürlich war mir klar, dass man aufgrund der begrenzten Hardware-Power und des kleinen Touchscreens keine hochkomplexe und vollfunktionale Schnittlösung erwarten konnte, ich war aber positiv überrascht, dass tatsächlich alle Grundfunktionen an Bord waren, um aus mehreren Clips ein einfaches Video zu basteln. Auch die Bedienung per Touchscreen ging erstaunlich gut von der Hand. Es gab allerdings zwei Probleme, die den ersten Enthusiasmus schnell wieder eindämmten: Zum einen musste man sich mit unglaublich langen Renderzeiten beim Abspielen und Exportieren abfinden, zum anderen hatte der iPod Touch (2. Generation) noch keine Kamera, weshalb man Schnittmaterial erst umständlich auf das Geräte laden musste. Der praktische Nutzen war also in diesem Kontext eher gering und das ganze lediglich eine nette Spielerei mit Blick in die Zukunft.

Nachdem ich in der Folgezeit weiterhin tapfer meinem betagten Samsung Sliderhandy (immerhin mit Farbdisplay und 2MP-Kamera!) die Treue hielt und vom Kauf eines Smartphones absah, war es im Herbst 2013 dann doch soweit. Zwar hatten mir als Nutzer eines iMacs alle möglichen Leute zum Erwerb eines iPhones geraten, aber wie einst schon war mir einfach der Preis zu hoch. Kurzzeitig spielte ich mit dem Gedanken an ein Blackberry (wegen der physischen Tastatur), entschied mich dann aber mit dem Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini doch für ein Android-Gerät. Smartphone – check. Jetzt vielleicht noch ein Tablet? Kurze Zeit später legte ich mir auch noch ein iPadMini zu. Und auf ging es in die vielfältige und man mag fast sagen: unübersichtliche Welt der Apps. Mittlerweile hatte ja auch die Hardware der Geräte Riesenschritte nach vorne gemacht: Für den Videoschnitt brauchbare Rechenpower durch leistungsfähigere Chipsets kombiniert mit HD- und FullHD-Videooptiken hoben den praktischen Nutzen dieser portablen Multimedia-Allzweckwaffe in ganz neue Regionen.

Bei der Suche nach Personen und Plattformen, die sich mit der mobilen Medienproduktion via Smartphones und Tablets (etablierte Stichwörter und Hashtags sind hier z.B. MoJo/Mobile Journalism und Mobile Reporting) auseinandersetzen, stieß ich auf zwei Blogs, die für mich in diesem Bereich wegweisend wurden und deren Verfassern ich an dieser Stelle auch ganz herzlich für ihr Engagement danken möchte: Einerseits handelt es sich dabei um das Blog von Glen Mulcahy (tvvj.wordpress.com), Innovation Lead beim öffentlichen irischen Fernseh- und Radiosender RTÉ in Dublin. Glen stellt in seinem Blog allerlei Geräte, Apps und Zusatzequipment vor, die sich zur mobilen Medienproduktion mit Smartphones und Tablets eignen. Auch das Thema Workflow wird behandelt, also welche Arbeitsprozesse und –abläufe vom Dreh bis zur Veröffentlichung von Inhalten gut oder weniger gut funktionieren. Im deutschsprachigen Bereich hat sich in dieser Hinsicht Marcus Bösch mit seinem Blog mobile-journalism.com sehr verdient gemacht. Seine Beiträge sind öfter auch mal mit einer Prise (Selbst-)Ironie gewürzt und finden bisweilen interessante Anschlusspunkte an medien-, kommunikations- und sozialwissenschaftliche Themen.

Leider ist im Allgemeinen jedoch zu beobachten, dass viele Informationsquellen zur AV-Medienproduktion mit Smartphones sehr stark auf Apple und seine iOS-Geräte, insbesondere das iPhone, fixiert sind und die beiden anderen relevanten mobilen Plattformen Android (Google) und Windows Phone (Microsoft) weitgehend oder komplett ausblenden. Das ist bedauerlich, denn es gibt hier auch sehr viel zu entdecken und zu vergleichen. Mein Ansatz für dieses Blog ist deshalb ganz bewusst ein plattformübergreifender: Android, iOS und Windows Phone. Und sollte es etwas Spannendes von anderen (vom Marktanteil verschwindend geringen) mobilen Betriebssystemen wie Blackberry OS, Firefox OS, Ubuntu etc. geben, dann kommt vielleicht auch mal ein Post dazu. Um die Betriebssysteme an sich wird es allerdings gar nicht so direkt gehen, der Fokus wird von der technischen Seite aus auf Geräten, Apps, Zubehör und Workflows liegen. Dazu will ich hin und wieder auch eine etwas breitere, medientheoretische (und durchaus auch selbstreflexive) Perspektive aufziehen, um mich nicht in einem bloßen Gadget-Universum zu verlieren. Mal sehen, ob das gelingt …

P.S.: Wer gerne regelmäßig mit kleinen Info-Bits zum Thema versorgt werden möchte, der darf mir gern auf Twitter unter @smartfilming folgen!