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Vertical videos, long scorned, find a niche on smartphones

A quick look at Google’s suggested searches let’s you know how we feel about vertical videos. (Screenshot)
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“It’s not crack or nothing, but it’s still really bad,” a puppet warned in a popular YouTube video on the perils of “Vertical Video Syndrome.” Another clips warn that “vertical videos are a sin.”

This is the kind of criticism typically made of vertical videos. The well-established backlash stems from our use of smartphones. Because we generally hold them vertically, many people shoot videos that way, too. But when these videos get replayed on horizontal screens, the result is unsightly. Vertical black bars flank the actual video.

One smartphone app, Cameo, has gone so far as to not let you film without first turning your phone sideways. Videos shot in “landscape mode” are a natural fit given how our eyes are horizontal, plus it’s the presentation we’re used to because of TV and movie screens.

All video apps on smartphones have generally respected this tradition. YouTube and Vimeo default to showing a video horizontally, even if a user is holding their smartphone vertically. Instagram and Vine shoot videos in a square.

Yet amid this distaste for vertical videos, a few smartphone apps, Snapchat and Mindie, have boldly embraced vertical videos. They’re tapping into the natural manner in which people hold smartphones.

“It’s more work, it’s not convenient. If it’s vertical, you just have to open your phone,” said Mindie co-founder Grégoire Henrion. “Ninety-nine percent of the use cases of your phone are vertical.”

His app lets users record a short video and then add music to it. In the next 10 years, he expects most videos watched on smartphones to be viewed vertically.

“Taking that extra step to turn it to landscape or horizontal, sometimes it’s too much for some people,” said Andrea Allen, director of original productions at Vimeo, and a proponent of shooting horizontally. “They want to have a quick video they want to share with friends and … depending on the viewing device, that’s a great way to shoot and share a quick video.”

Mindie and Snapchat are mobile-focused start-ups, so they aren’t stressed about how a video would look on another device. They can embrace the natural way a person holds a phone.

“We always wanted to create the most emotional video experience on mobile. It was a no-brainer we wanted to be full-screen,” Henrion said.

It’s long been that a hatred of vertical videos signaled you had good taste in film-making. But as kids flocks to Snapchat, it might also signify that you’re old.

Of course, it seems highly unlikely that vertical videos will ever make a welcome leap to larger screens. Although at this month’s SXSW Film Festival, there will be a vertical cinema experience, hosted in an Austin church. Ten experimental films will be shown that were shot with the intention of being shown vertically.