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Byte vs. TikTok: Which video app will live up to Vine's legacy?

Byte might've missed its window or it could be a competitor to TikTok.

It was a dark day in 2017 when Twitter announced it was shutting down Vine, the six-second video-looping social app. In less than four years, Vine became a hub for micro-video memes, creating the rise of a generation of young Vine stars with its potential for quick and quirky humor. As users consoled themselves with YouTube compilation videos of their favorite Vines, a new app seized the opportunity Vine's death created. 

TikTok, formerly Musical.ly, soared in popularity, even after Vine's co-founder announced a possible replacement, Byte, in 2018. TikTok steamed forward as Byte, originally called V2, entered beta testing, then stalled, and finally released last month.

Suddenly, users had two short-form video hosting apps where they'd previously been left with only the archives of another. Byte could prove a worthy competitor to TikTok -- it was downloaded 1.3 million times in its first week, according to Sensor Tower data

So, should you use Byte or TikTok? Or both? Here's a breakdown of each app, how it works and what you need to know.

James Martin/CNET

TikTok was developed by Chinese company ByteDance, and launched in the US in 2017. You can download TikTok for free on iOS, Android or from the Amazon app store. Videos will automatically start playing on the app and you can poke around the website version, too, but if you want to actually create a zany TikTok video to get you your 15 seconds of fame, you'll need to make an account.

Signing up

Tap the profile icon in the bottom-right corner of the screen to sign up. You can sign up with Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, your phone number or an email address. The app will link to the platform you choose, or you can sign up manually. If you sign up manually, you'll need to input your birthday (TikTok says users under age 18 need a parent's approval before joining), a phone number or email address, and set a password. TikTok will verify that you're not a robot and you're all set.

Navigating the app

If you used Vine (or Instagram), TikTok's interface isn't too difficult to pick up. When you open the app, videos automatically start playing on the front page. If you haven't followed anyone yet, the videos in your home feed are going to be pretty random. To start personalizing your feed, start following or liking videos you see. Explore the Discover tab to find more content. The more content you like and follow, the more personalized your For You tab will become. Like a video by double-tapping it, or tapping the heart icon on the right of the screen. To follow a creator, tap their profile icon (above the heart). There are also options on the right side of the screen to leave comments, share a video and find out what song is playing in the video.

To save a video, add it to a favorites collection. To let the app know you're uninterested, long-press on the screen. You can also access the creator's profile, where you can follow then and view more of their videos, by swiping left. 

As you become more involved and engaged with the app and other users, likes and comments from your followers will populate in the Notifications tab. Your private message inbox is also in the Notifications tab. To make any adjustments to your account, like privacy settings or push notifications, tap the profile icon, then the three-dot settings in the top-right corner.

Speaking of privacy, it should be noted that TikTok was under investigation from the US government for potential security risks due to its Chinese ownership. It has since released a transparency report showing that it received no user information requests from China in the first half of 2019. However, the app has still raised a number of other red flags.

Making a video

If you've uploaded videos to other social media sites or edited content in your phone's camera app, this won't need much explaining. But there are a lot of bells and whistles you can add to your TikTok creation, and it can get cluttered fast. 

Tap the white "+" at the bottom center of the screen and give TikTok the necessary permissions it asks for. Film something new or upload an older video. You can trim a video immediately after uploading the footage. Your sound editing options are at the top right, and the video editing controls are at the bottom left of the screen. Add a song by tapping Select Song and use the Mixter tool or Trim to get the music just right. 

From there, you can change the video's color, or add stickers, Snapchat-style filters, GIFs, emoji and more. If you mess up, just drag the item to the top of the screen where a tiny trash can will appear. TikTok has video effects like Rainbow, Water, Snow and Feathers. In addition, you can add transitions like Scroll, Rotate and more. The cool part is, you can change filters as often as you want to, even within the same video. Just long-press on a filter to apply it, and let go to stop. Tap Select Cover to create a thumbnail that others will see of your video. 

To start the publishing process, tap Next. If you use Instagram, the publishing screen is similar. There's a text box where you can write a bit about your video, add some hashtags or tag friends. It's also easy to toggle choices to customize who sees your posts. No matter what privacy settings you selected for this particular video, TikTok will ask for confirmation before posting.

Byte

Byte was developed by Vine co-founder Dom Hoffman. Since the app is still new, it's currently only available on Android and iOS. Even though Byte had a run-in with bots shortly after launch, it still reported a promising first week of downloads.

Signing up

After you download the app, Byte asks you to sign in. Right now, there's not an option to make a standalone account in the app. You can either choose Sign in with Google or Sign in with Apple if you're using the app on an iOS device. I tested the app on a Pixel 3, so Byte only listed Sign in with Google. 

This sign-in method can be convenient. But in the event of a data breach, every account that uses the same password will be at risk. We reached out to Byte for comment, and will update when we hear back.

Navigating the app

Byte's interface is similar to that of TikTok, since the two apps are set up to do basically the same thing. Until you start following other users, Byte will show a variety of videos in your home feed. If you tap the magnifying glass, you can start exploring content. The app sorts videos into different categories like trending stuff, or genres like comedy, anime, weird things, pets, magic and more, instead of hashtags, like TikTok uses. 

When you tap a collection, the videos will start to play, and you can scroll through. Tap the profile icon in the bottom left to view the creator's profile and follow their account. If you tap the slanted arrow, it displays sharing options, and you can "rebyte" or share the video on other social media. Tap the speech bubble to leave a comment, or tap the heart to like it (double-tap on the screen works too). It felt a little cleaner to me than TikTok's axis of buttons.

To create your own video, tap the white circle button in the middle of the screen. Once you start interacting in the app, you can see your notifications (followers, likes, rebytes, etc.) by tapping the lightning bolt icon at the bottom. Finally, the little person icon takes you to your profile. If you haven't posted anything, nothing will be there, but you can explore your liked Bytes or Rebytes by tapping the three-dot settings icon at the top left. 

The settings menu also has a way for you to check your Stats -- your number of followers, how many times your Bytes have been "looped," or watched, and how many "loops" you've watched. This can be helpful if you're trying to establish yourself on the site, or get your 15 minutes of fame. In settings, you can also view your followers and those you follow, manage any accounts you've blocked, or deactivate your account. 

Making a video

When you're ready to make your first Byte, tap the circle button at the bottom of the screen. You can either upload a video from your phone or film a new one. If you want to upload an old video, tap the picture icon on the bottom far right. Tap to select your video. Byte videos can last up to only 6.5 seconds (compared to TikTok's 15 seconds), so you'll need to do some editing if it's too long. Drag the edit bar if you want to capture a different section of the video. Tap 'x' to go back, play to view the clip or double-check what's in your clip. When you're satisfied, tap the arrow on the right to continue. 

Publish your video by tapping the Post button in the bottom right, or add a caption. If you tap Add to Channel, you can put your video into one of the genre channels to help others find it. Check or uncheck Save to Gallery if you want to keep the clip, and then hit Post.

For now, it doesn't look like there's anything by way of special effects to add, especially in comparison to TikTok's near-professional suite of editing tools. However, the app does offer Ghost Mode: If you tap the ghost icon while filming, it'll make your original image look faded, creating a dream-like or flashback effect. 

Byte's camera controls work almost in reverse of TikTok's. In the Byte app, if you lift your finger off the record button, the recording stops. This could make it easier to film cool stop-motion Bytes or animations. In TikTok, tapping the camera starts the recording and tapping the button again stops it. 

I liked that even if you close the Byte app and then come back, your video will be where you left it. You won't lose where you left off unless you tap the 'x' in the top left. And of course, the reverse arrows on the bottom left swap between front- and back-facing cameras. 

The bottom line

Ultimately, the TikTok vs. Byte fight comes down to which app works best for you. TikTok has been around a while longer, but Byte comes directly from the creators of Vine. For now, if you want to publish flashier, effects-heavy videos that last up to 15 seconds, TikTok is the best option. If you're a Vine-purist and only want that 6.5-second, well, bite, Byte is the minimalist option that you've been missing. It's possible the app could add more editing options in the future. 

Of course, both apps are free, so there's no harm in trying both and seeing which one you like.