THE SUCCESS OF Periscope and Meerkat shows livestreaming offers something beyond the practical intent of the technology. Beyond demos and instructional presentations, livestreaming apps provide direct access to a streamer’s personal experiences. A trip to the grocery store or a walk to work becomes a ride-along, a participatory event. As mundane as these tiny moments seem, they can be fascinating once streamed because the presentation is hyper-realistic, unfiltered and intimate. These snippets of life are more engaging than the carefully curated images posted to Instagram and Facebook.
Now comes Unicorns, an app that streams whatever you’re doing on your phone—playing a game, texting, swiping through Tinder. It’s like a combination of Periscope or Meerkat and Homescreen, the app that takes a shot of your homescreen and serves as a discovery platform for others, a peek into what apps people are using and what essentials get the coveted dock spot.
“Your homescreen is personal, which makes it more exciting!” says Mai-Li Hammargren of Lookback, the company that created Unicorns (and doesn’t believe in job titles. No seriously. It doesn’t). “A personality test I read the other day asked questions such as, ‘What is the last thing you touch at night—your partner, or your mobile phone,’ discovering that most people act like they are in love with their phone.”
Even if you’re not in love with your phone, you’re probably territorial about it. Think about any time you’ve handed it over to show someone a photo or a Facebook post—the moment they scroll past what you intended them to see, genuine panic sets in. What happens within our phones almost feels like what happens within our heads. Why on earth would you want to broadcast such private moments?
Aside from narcissism, of course.
The biggest reason is practicality. The app is being used to help developers demo their software and replicate bugs and glitches. Gamers can use it for playthroughs, to show how to get past a tough level. “We’re seeing a lot of users gaming, of course, and we’re super excited about this, but also seeing many users coming on to showcase pre-release apps or upcoming features and chat with the users live … it has so many possibilities,” says Neil Kinnish, another member of the Lookback team. In fact, Lookback originally developed the tech as a developer tool for user testing. But now, it’s become something more.
We’ve learned time and time again that the Internet loves watching people Internet—the success of WatchPeopleCode is yet more evidence of this. And the rise of these livestreaming apps is something that only could have occurred with recent improvements in network throughput and camera quality. “We’ve hit that point where live video and access to faster connection speeds is becoming better and better,” says Lookback’s Kinnish.
Using Unicorns is simple. You download it to your Mac desktop, then connect your iOS device to your computer. Start the app when you’re ready to stream. None of what you capture is public until you’re ready—a quick tweet invites people to tune in, otherwise the stream is for your eyes only. You can also tweet a link after streaming and let viewers replay the session.
Once you start the stream, everything that happens on your phone becomes a part of the show. While watching a stream of me playing Dots (don’t judge) might also feature a Twitter DM notification popping up. A demo of a new app might be stage-crashed by a personal iMessage. Clicking through and viewing some of the streams, you glimpse some intimate digital moments that users may not have intended to share. Not to mention plugging in your passcode–sure, you don’t give the whole thing away, but it’s still not something you’d list under best online practices.
Expected overshares are a casualty of Unicorns. Owen Williams, who writes for The Next Web and has been playing around in Unicorns, says he accidentally showed viewers his PIN. Even with these privacy slip-ups, Williams thinks Unicorns could catch on.
“Think about what Twitch did for games that nobody seemingly thought others would watch,” he says. “There are millions streaming every month.”
So yes, there are probably hundreds of people who want to watch a livestream of you picking an Instagram filter.
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