These days, just about every viral smartphone app that isn’t Pokémon Go seems to involve artificial intelligence. One potential reason? They offer a tantalizing glimpse into a future made easier by self-taught computers. There’s Prisma, which leverages machine learning algorithms to give your photos oil canvas makeovers, and there’s Macy’s On Call, which uses artificial intelligence to guide shoppers along department store aisles. And now there’s Microsoft’s Pix. It’s a camera app for iOS that uses algorithms to help you “take better photos without extra effort.”
Pix, a product of Microsoft Research, is a tad more bare-bones than the default app on iPhone. In lieu of manual settings sliders like ISO, exposure, and focus adjustment, it features a single shutter and machine intelligence capable of applying adjustments on the fly. Using “smart settings,” it optimizes your iPhone’s camera for a given environment’s lighting every time you tap the shutter button. It uses “intelligent features” to improve the appearance of subjects when they’re identified in the frame, and detects when their eyes are closed, the absence of a smile, and when faces are blurred. And it takes a 10 frames in half a second — seven before you snap a pic and three immediately after — from which it intelligently selects up to three of the “best” and “most unique” shots. Discarded pics are used to optimize Pix’s photo settings — i.e. ,exposure, contrast, color, and white balance — over time, and to reduce image noise.
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Pix applies the same computer intelligence to video and sharing. It automatically determines when to stitch together pics captured during a burst shot, and it stabilizes videos using the same time-lapse technology behind Microsoft’s Hyperlapse app for Android. Videos and photos sync to your camera roll “seamlessly” once processed, and Pix taps into iOS’s sharing tools for easy exportation — you can share a video with your Facebook friends, for instance, or post a pic to your legion of Instagram followers.
Pix isn’t perfect. It takes up to two seconds at a time for the app to process images, and it’s only available on iOS devices. But Microsoft’s chipping away. It’s already managed to reduce Pix’s processing time internally, it told CNET, and expects to finalize an Android app, plus new features like panorama capabilities and the “Beautfy Mode” originally developed for the Microsoft Selfie app, in the coming months. “Android has more complexity in the variety of camera modules, chipsets and versions of Android,” Josh Weisberg, pricincipal program manager in Microsoft Research’s Computation Photography Group, told CNET.
Pix is available for free on the iTunes app Store.
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