Apple made an interesting advertisement showcasing one of the latest features of iPhone 6 Plus called 'live photos', and from the ad it looks like an image which when you click on it play a 3-5 sec video.

I am curious as to whether the use of this term (apart from obvious marketing purposes) includes any technical distinction from their video features, as I would have thought that a very short video that is triggered from clicking a photo is still a video and probably should still be classified as a video.

Is there a standard definition of a video in the way a user interacts with it? Or is the distinction between a photo and video based purely on certain technical specifications?

  • 1
    Should I take the close votes to mean that this really is primarily opinion based and definitely not a technical or design difference?
    – Michael Lai
    Mar 6, 2016 at 23:40
  • 1
    I'm not one of the close voters but I assume its because this questions falls into the "why did X company make Y decision" category because you ask why Apple uses that term. I believe the question could be rephrased to fit better and stay open while keeping its meaning.
    – DasBeasto
    Mar 7, 2016 at 20:29
  • @DasBeasto I have edited the question so that hopefully it is more open and less subjective.
    – Michael Lai
    Mar 7, 2016 at 21:43

1 Answer 1


Live Photos are animated photos, not videos.

What makes it confusing is the difference between creative semantics and technical semantics.

Technically speaking, Live Photos is both a photo and a video. The media that is created is a photo JPEG and a QuickTime movie. But that is not really important. That is just an implementation detail. In a future implementation, Live Photos may be only photos-based — it may just be a succession of JPEG photos that were taken 30 per second.

But creatively speaking, Live Photos is an animated photo, not a video. The user has decided to capture a still photo — as opposed to deciding to make a short movie — and they have composed a still photo in their viewfinder as always, and pressed the shutter once to capture that one single moment. They are not going through the process of shooting a movie where you press Record and frame a shot and move the camera around to communicate a narrative and ultimately press Stop. They have taken a still photo with a single shutter press in the same way they have done for over 100 years. However, with Live Photos, instead of the still camera capturing only a still photo, it has captured a few moments before the still photo and a few moments after the still photo to create a loop that brings the photo to life. Creatively, that loop is not a video — it is an animation.

This concept did not originate with the iPhone. It has been done for years by pro photographers, and it has been featured in many works of fiction. For example, there are “magic photos” in the fictional Harry Potter stories. An otherwise unremarkable still photo frame shows a short loop of the moment that was captured rather than just a still photo. But semantically, that is still a photo. It is just an animated photo. There is no narrative as in a movie.

  • I am a little bit curious about your interpretation of a series of images in a continuous loop still just as a photo and not having narrative as in a movie, probably because time lapse photography is powerful when you link it together to create the narrative over a period of time. But I like your explanation of the difference.
    – Michael Lai
    Mar 7, 2016 at 21:53

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