Last year, Google opened up Area 120. The idea was to give employees the tools and space to make their own brilliant startups within the Google family, rather than heading off on their own to make the next big thing.
The first project has emerged from it, and while it doesn’t look like it will change the world, it’s a fun-looking app with the kind of early polish that the backing of a big company can offer. It’s called Uptime, and it allows people to turn the generally quite solitary experience of watching YouTube into a social experience. In essence, it changes watching TV on your own into watching TV in a cinema – albeit a noisy cinema without a big screen.
That sounds like the kind of cinema that wouldn’t survive for very long, so let me clarify. Taking some inspiration from the likes (and “Likes”) of Facebook Live, Uptime allows you to share any YouTube video with your friends, and see their reactions to the video as they watch. A track runs around the outside of the video, and everyone who is watching it appears as an icon moving around the edges. As with Facebook Live, you can react to the video with comments or with a selection of smiley faces.
If nothing else, it should prove that your friends are actually watching the videos you send them.
There are a few issues with it at the moment – chief among them is the shortage of people to follow. It’s invite-only at the moment, but the official account says you can get in with the code “ICECREAM”. It’s also only on iPhone for now, which might seem odd for a Google product, but that’s actually pretty normal for the company: with less variety in screen size and specification, iOS is a good testing ground for ideas, rather than rolling out onto Android right away. See also Gboard and Motion Stills – the latter of which still hasn’t come to Android.