Lifelapse app snaps, saves your everyday life

Lifelapse Startup ScreenI’ve long been intensely interested in “lifelogging.” Though there are many different labels and variations, the basic concept revolves around the constant and automatic recording of your day-to-day life.

And while it’s rough around the edges, the Lifelapse app [iTunes Link] for iPhone and iPod touch — just released today — seems like an intriguing new tool for the growing world of ubiquitous, persistent digital histories.

Lifelapse takes a photo every 30 seconds, ideally while your iPhone is suspended around your neck, watching the world from your chest throughout the day. You can then compile the images into a time lapse-style video, or simply export the full collection of perhaps hundreds of photos.

Then you can relive your day in minutes, whether it was spent walking around Lisbon, Portugal, or attending a Quantified Self conference in Mountain View.

The Launch of Lifelapse

Founders Tom Klaver, Glenn Wolters and Jeroen Bos conceived Lifelapse as an invention during their semesters at school. As recently as December, there was nothing to Lifelapse besides its name, concept, and a sign-up-for-updates website. I first heard about it when it turned up on Beta List.

In March, the team gave a presentation on their project at a Quantified Self meetup in Amsterdam. It also caught the attention of AllThingsD and Engadget. Over 1,500 people signed up based on the idea alone. Last week, the company started selling its “Lifepouch,” specifically designed to hold your iPhone while you went about your day. And today, the app went live.

The Next Web said it was “easy to use and is perfect for people who like to adventure or document their experiences whilst on holiday.” Apple blog TUAW was not impressed.

Of course, I had to try it for myself.

Hands-On with Lifelapse

First, I put my iPhone on the dashboard of my car and let Lifelapse document my drive home from Iwilei, through Chinatown, then out west toward Mililani. Unfortunately, the direct sunlight trigged my iPhone’s first ever overheated warning and shut everything down as I passed through Aiea. After I got home, I jury-rigged my own carrier (using a lanyard and an official iPhone bumper case), and took Lifelapse on a walk around Mililani before sunset.

Here’s the final result:

Not exactly Oscar-worthy stuff, but to me, still interesting. Not so much for what it does now, but for what it might do.

Right now, after creating a Lifelapse sequence, you can render it into a video or simply save the hundreds of photos to your Cameral Roll. You can also swipe through the sequence to save individual photos. A hundred or so photos created a two-minute, nine megabyte video.

Lifelapse has a few significant shortcomings. For example, the photos and video only work in portrait orientation, which drives me nuts. (I’m grateful the Vimeo player actually supports upright videos, rather than squishing it between big blank bars.) It seems like you can only assemble a single Lifelapse sequence a day, so my drive and my walk got stuck together. And the video it creates (640 × 852 with H.264 encoding) wouldn’t play in Aperture for some reason, prompting me to open it in QuickTime.

Though “privacy” is clearly not the first concern of anyone who would use this app, I think it desperately needs to offer the ability to delete individual snapshots from a sequence. Though the creators have a clear “warts and all” philosophy about documenting the world, the fact of the matter is you could accidentally catch someone’s shorts or blouse at the wrong angle, or spend too much time in the toilet. Yes, you can pause and restart the capture process, but there’s a lot you could capture without knowing it.

And on a practical level, running Lifelapse can drain your iPhone battery pretty fast. In maybe two hours of use, it took me down from a full charge to about 65 percent. I’m doubtful it could actually record an entire day, even though it’s smart enough to shut down the screen when your iPhone is flat against your chest (via the proximity sensor).

And frankly, I use my iPhone all the time. It was absolute torture leaving it just hanging around my neck. Ironically, I’d probably want to use Lifelapse to record a particularly interesting day, but on a particularly interesting day, I’d be using my iPhone to do other things like take photos, videos, and posting on Twitter and Facebook. Lifelapse almost demands a second, dedicated iPhone.

But the Lifelapse team has been up-front about describing their project as an experiment, and this app as only the first step, the “base layer” for a more complex tool. Right now you can tie your Lifelapse sequences to events in your iPhone calendar. But in the future, the company says they will add third-party services to support location check-ins (Foursquare?) and status updates (Twitter?). And key to the growth of Lifelapse will be a full-featured web-app… something I’m really eager to see.

I’m not sure how often I’ll use Lifelapse, but I love the idea, and think it could evolve into something interesting, and be a part of a much bigger personal information ecosystem.

Too Much Information

Sure, “lifelogging” sounds a bit neurotic, and possibly a little conceited, but the fact of the matter is that many of us are already doing it… we just may not know it.

Look at how personal publishing, online interaction, and now social media have evolved to share finer and finer details. From personal home pages to blogs to Tumblr to Twitter. From tracking our morning runs on Runkeeper to checking into Foursquare at lunch, from documenting the daily special on Foodspotting to sharing your location via Glympse or Google Latitude. Frankly, whether through deliberate actions like these, or through unconscious data streams recorded by our credit card purchases or cell phone GPS chips, each and every move is probably already being recorded somewhere.

To be sure, privacy is a concern, and whether you’re talking about the government, or corporations, or advertisers, there’s good reason to want to control this information. I know I’m an outlier, and live in public moreso than most.

But ultimately, for me, the fact that these rich data streams exist is my starting point. All these devices and apps and services are generating a torrent of information about my life. How can I use that information to improve my life?

From the installation of a real-time whole-house power meter last week to my brief obsession with “lifecasting” four years ago, I’m convinced that it’s a good thing to have more information about the world around me, and to have more detailed records of where I’ve been and what I’ve done.

I’m certainly not alone. From the “quantified self” (looking within) to “ubiquitous computing” (looking everywhere else), there’s a growing market for tools to track, measure, analyze, and predict anything and everything.

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