Sharing great moments (or just snippets of your life) with friends or loved ones has never been easier, and a new class of live streaming app makes it possible for them to join you in real time. Of those apps, we think Periscope is the best today, and has the most potential for the near future.
Makes live streaming a simple, one-touch operation.
Supports streaming in both portrait and landscape formats
Allows you to live stream to the public, or privately to specific invitees who have the link to the broadcast
Can connect to Twitter (which makes sense, since Periscope is owned by Twitter) to share your stream with your friends and followers, and find broadcasters to follow based on who you follow on Twitter
Allows streams to be replayed through your profile if your friends miss the live event
Supports YouTube auto-upload, so after your broadcast is finished, you can save it and share it with a wider audience
Allows you to follow Twitter contacts using the app as well, browse available live streams by geographic location, and see which of your friends is streaming live at any given time
Replays—or streams broadcast in the past 24 hours—also appear on the map, so you can see recent events as well as current broadcasts
Allows you to fast/forward or rewind live streams, so if you come in late you can go back and see what you missed, then get back to speed
Where It Excels
Periscope may not have been first to the iPhone live streaming game, but it managed to hone the process to the point where many prefer it. It’s incredibly simple to start a stream, share a stream, and interact with the people watching. From install to broadcast, it’s only a couple of steps, and even after your first stream, starting a new one is a one-tap affair. Share it over to Twitter and watch people tune in, leave you messages in real time, shower you with “hearts,” and you have a tool people actually use to share interesting moments in their lives—or newsworthy ones.
Periscope’s social aspects and connection to Twitter make it easy to use for news-y moments, whether it’s something of news value to the world, or just to you and your friends. Even so, for the more privacy-minded, those social aspects are largely optional (aside from signing in, that is) so you’re free to stream publicly or privately. Best of all, Periscope still makes it easy to upload your streams to YouTube, so anyone who missed it can catch up.
Periscope is popular and easy to use, but it’s not perfect. Like we mentioned when we gave it this same nod for Android, its integration with Twitter makes sense, but it could integrate better with other networks as well like Facebook (despite its lack of “real-time” capabilities, beyond the activity stream) and other video services like Vimeo or Google Photos would be a nice place to save past streams as well. As before, none of these things are huge drawbacks though, since Periscope is aiming for simplicity above all else, and the extra complexity for the sake of services not often used (or desired by its users) may not be necessary.
Beyond that, we still see more than our share of spotty connections, streams that are live but take forever to load, and stuttering streams, but it’s always difficult to tell if the cause of those issue are the Periscope app, the user’s connection, the user’s device, or the viewer’s connection. Some streams are great, but others—specifically on-the-go streams on the street or when the streamer is clearly using 3G or 4G—can be difficult to watch.
It’s also worth noting that many users—especially iOS users—report that Periscope can make your phone very hot, and is definitely a battery hog, so keep that in mind when streaming (or better yet, when planning to stream.)
Meerkat (Free) is Periscope’s biggest competition, and to be fair, came first. While the two used to be fierce competitors, they’re a bit different now. Meerkat only does public, live events (although you can rewatch streams later if you like.) The UI is definitely more cluttered, and it’s certainly a bit trickier to use. Development has slowed down on it, too—the app definitely has seen updates and bugfixes, but no new features since August. Starting a stream is still a one-touch affair, but it kind of comes as a surprise, and there are virtually no settings. Signing up is a bit easier though (just your phone number, a profile photo, and a username are all you need,) and you don’t have to link your Twitter account until you want to—you can also link the app with Facebook as well if you prefer. In any case, it’s a good option if you’re already using it, or if you know people using it, but we definitely prefer Periscope.
Hang w/ (Freemium, with in-app purchases) tries to do a lot, and that’s either a great thing or a drawback, depending on your needs. It’s both a live streaming app from your phone and a live streaming service you can use via webcam, but the emphasis in the app isn’t entirely on starting your own channel and streaming what you do—it’s more on building an audience for existing streamers and giving them a platform. More than a few celebrities post their streams, both live and archived, on Hang w/, and encourage you to join, watch, comment from your phone or from the web (or from your Apple Watch), and even tip your favorite broadcasters. That all said, while there is a large community on Hang w/, you can always start your own streams and post your own shows, or just stream whatever you’re doing periodically. It does have some unique features for viewers though, like the option to zoom in and out on broadcasts. For streamers, you get perks like ad sharing (if your streams are free, and many here are not) and the ability to post directly to YouTube, or stream from web-connected cameras like a GoPro. It’s much trickier to navigate than some of the simpler options here, and the money aspect means there’s a bigger barrier to entry, but it’s worth considering if you want to make your streaming more of a business and less a thing you do with friends.
Livestream (Free) has been around for a long time. The app has come a long way in the post-Meerkat and post-Periscope days, and while it’s not as easy to use as those two, it’s definitely simpler than it used to be. Even so, it’s definitely more of its own social network than a purely streaming service. Partnerships with TV networks and sports leagues also mean that any event being streamed via Livestream on the web is an event you can watch on your phone (or your desktop,) and you can replay events after they’ve ended, save your own streams to share elsewhere, connect with Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and interact with other streamers. Again, not as simple or easy as some of the others here, but useful if you’re looking for an alternative, or prefer to find live events to watch over streaming your own events. The app is well-loved largely because it’s so easy to find partner streams and live events—which makes it a little less personal than Periscope or Meerkat, but still entertaining.
UStream (Free, in-app purchases to remove ads) is another old, familiar app, but it’s tough to recommend. Its ad-supported, which isn’t bad, but there are a lot of ads, and every time a stream is interrupted, the app crashes, or you have to reload, you get a fresh batch of them—sometimes the same ads you just watched. Their solution to this is, of course, to buy a premium membership, conveniently sold via in-app purchase. Streaming is tricky too—you can stream from your device, it’s just obviously not what the app is really designed for. If you have a favorite stream at Ustream though (like this live HD view from the International Space Station) and want to check it out on your phone or tablet—or if you’re streaming and want to see how you look on another device, then it’s worth checking out, but good luck finding it. The search is pretty awful, and the only streams you’re directed to in the app are “popular” or “best of Ustream,” which are a tossup for quality. UStream’s angle is clearly “pay us to host your video streaming platform,” and not “use us to stream to friends and family.”
Stringwire (Free) is actually a live streaming app from NBC—which means that while the app definitely makes it easy to start and stop streams, your videos are pretty much the property of NBC. Make no mistake, they credit you if you’re streaming something that they use for news—and they encourage you to use the app to help break news in your community and get involved with citizen journalism, as it were, but just something to keep in mind. Stringwire is also notable because it works with personal quadcopters: there are instructions to use the app in conjunction with the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ or any Parrot Bebop, and the app also works with web-connected cameras like the GoPro. Stringwire also makes it easy to find other active streams from anywhere in the world, including live streams from reporters or other news agencies that are using the app. You can also save your videos and streams locally (something a surprising number of other apps don’t let you do) to back up or share anywhere you choose.
Lifehacker’s App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.