It’s that time of year, folks. Rumors of what the next iPhone will be like are coming in hot and heavy. Last week, well-connected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo noted that the new handsets would nix the home button for a touch-friendly “function area.” Now there’s another bit of info. In a KGI Securities report detailed by 9to5Mac, the analyst explains that the upcoming OLED iPhone will feature a “revolutionary” front camera that’s capable of sensing 3D space via infrared.
More specifically, the report explains that the newfangled camera can combine depth information with 2D images for things like facial recognition, iris recognition and, perhaps most importantly, 3D selfies. Given the previous report about the home button being put out to pasture, there will need to be a replacement for Touch ID. Rumors indicate that either facial recognition or a fingerprint reader embedded in the display would assist with unlocking the device. This new report would point more to the former method.
The report also explains a bit about how the 3D front-facing camera would be used in gaming scenarios. The camera could be used to replace an in-game character’s head or face with that of the user and those 3D selfies could be destined for augmented reality.
It’s no surprise to get word of potential depth-sensing camera tech from Apple. The company nabbed PrimeSense in 2013, an outfit that co-developed the original Kinect for Xbox. This latest KGI report says PrimeSense algorithms will allow the hardware to depth and location of objects in its field of view. An earlier report from Fast Company explained that Apple was working with Lumentum to use its 3D-sensing tech on the next iPhone.
While the 3D camera will only be on the front side for now, Kuo says Apple will eventually employ the tech on around back as well. The report also explains that the company is way ahead of Android as far as 3D algorithms go, so a depth-sensing camera would be a unique feature for a couple of years. Of course, if the early rumors are true, you can expect to pay $ 1,000 for the 10th anniversary iPhone when it arrives.
Microsoft sure loves it when research projects beget actual products, and it just released another for the masses to play with. Pix is a replacement camera app (what?) available for iPhones and iPads (what?), and in short, it promises better photos of the people around you without any extra work on your part. It’ll run on just about every iOS device from the iPhone 5S on, and an Android version is in the works too. (Microsoft didn’t have a firm answer when I asked if these features would make their way into the Windows 10 Mobile camera.) And you know what? In some ways, I wish this was the camera app that Apple built in the first place.
First, the basics. The most important thing you need to know about Pix is that it’s been tuned to make your pictures of people look better.
“There are things the Apple camera does that we don’t do and might not ever do,” said Josh Weisberg, GM of computational photography at Microsoft. “The goal was around people photos — can we make better people photos than the stock camera? And we succeeded.”
From the moment you start Pix, it’s capturing what your camera is pointed at -– you can never tell when something’s about to happen, after all. Once you press the shutter button, Pix snaps 10 frames, and Weisberg says that’s where the magic really kicks in. Algorithms evaluate those ten frames for obvious things like sharpness or exposure, but also underlying characteristics like whether a person in the shot seems happy or sad. When that near-instantaneous process is done, you’ll be given up to three “Best Images.” The image data from the leftover photos is used to enhance those winners before being deleted. All of this happens on the fly and without any extra fiddling, so you don’t need to be a photo buff to snap some great shots.
If the app detects a bunch of similar pictures, it’ll stitch them into a Live Image, but only when it thinks what’s going on in the photos is interesting. Oh, and the Hyperlapse feature that Microsoft has been working on for years is here too. This time, though, you can turn existing photos into time-lapses, or just use it to stabilize video you just shot.
Using Pix is very much a learning process, and I don’t just mean for you, the user. According to Weisberg, the app sends anonymized bits of “telemetry” — settings data and what Best Images people fave’d or deleted — back to the mothership, where human judges will examine them and adjust the image processing algorithms accordingly. Basically, the more you use Pix, the more insight it gains into what makes a photo good. All told, Weinberg was right: The app really is helpful for improving your photos of people. Usually, anyway.
In no time at all, I was snapping photos using Pix that came out punchier and with a greater emphasis on the people in the shot. When the testing period inevitably overlapped with post-work drinks at a local dive, Pix shined even brighter. I mean that literally too. Smartphone camera sensors often flounder in dim, dank conditions, leaving software to do the heavy lifting required to make a passable photo. Microsoft’s photo processing was both super-fast and mostly great at brightening up pictures of my colleagues and removing grain without making things look unnatural. I was utterly impressed… until I wasn’t.
Left: Microsoft Pix; Right: Apple’s camera app.
My biggest issue with Pix in its current form is that it’s inconsistent. Sometimes my shots were clear improvements over what Apple’s camera app was capable of. Other times, though, Apple’s softwaer had a clear edge. Take landscape photos, for instance: Even before Microsoft’s instantaneous image processing did its thing, the app had trouble exposing shots with bright backgrounds. Pix’s outdoor shots tended to be a little blown out, while Apple’s camera software was generally better at balancing exposure levels.
And for all the work that went into teaching Pix to enhance photos of people, it still struggles at times. A “Best Image” it suggested of a colleague in the dimly lit dive mentioned earlier was noticeably less crisp than the image the camera actually captured. In the app’s zeal to brighten up her face, it smoothed out her features a little too much. Long story short, the version of Pix I played with was still fairly hit or miss.
Left: Microsoft Pix; Right: Apple’s camera app.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. In fact, I’d strongly recommend giving this a download, even if you’re not the sort of person who already juggles multiple camera apps. The benefits of better image processing can be seen from the get-go, but the weightier, far more fascinating goal is to see how much Microsoft’s system can learn about good photographs. In a way, it’s almost as though we’re collectively training it to better understand art. The very nature of Microsoft’s algorithmic processing means these early issues will probably get ironed out over time, and I’m fascinated to see how long it takes before Pix becomes great in every situation.
If you’re wondering what the iPhone 7 should look like when it’s more than just a bare shell covered in watermarks, look no further. NowhereElse.fr has obtained a leaked photo that appears to offer an exceptionally clear, more complete view of Apple’s upcoming handset. The snapshot of the device sample shows that, yes, the standard-sized future iPhone should have a much larger, protruding camera lens (and presumably a larger sensor) along with cleaner antenna lines. While there’s no guarantees that this is exactly what Apple will launch later this year, we believe this photo was taken outside of the offices of Lite-On, a company with expertise optical and power supply technologies. It’s possible that someone brought the iPhone chassis to Lite-On or a nearby firm for testing.
The shot doesn’t verify other rumored details, such as the absence of a 3.5mm headphone jack, dual-SIM support or increased storage. And is the camera higher resolution, or will Apple offer a similar resolution and improve image quality (such as low light performance) instead? We’d add that this doesn’t show the larger iPhone 7 Plus, which is widely rumored to have dual rear cameras that would improve focusing and overall fidelity. This may not be the last leak you see, but we have a hunch that you won’t get all the answers until Apple holds its iPhone launch event sometime in the weeks ahead.
Another week, another iPhone 7 leak. (Hey, it rhymes!) Following the set of components allegedly showing dual-SIM support, up to 256GB of storage and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the next iPhone, Chinese repair shop Rock Fix is back with a photo of what it claims to be the 4.7-inch iPhone 7’s rear casing. Most notably, there are fewer plastic antenna bands here, and the main camera is said to feature a larger CMOS sensor — here’s hoping this will offer larger pixel sites to boost light sensitivity. What’s interesting is that contrary to WSJ’s report earlier this week, Rock Fix pointed out that the headphone jack is here to stay on one of the two 4.7-inch variants, which would explain why we’re seeing conflicting rumors about the headphone jack.
Rock Fix added that the cheaper 4.7-inch model — our money’s on the one that’s keeping the headphone jack — will replace the aging iPhone 6 in the new lineup. As for the bigger iPhone 7 Plus, it’ll unlikely have a variant with the headphone jack, but we’re told that it’ll be the only one featuring the special dual-lens camera we saw last time. Both sizes will apparently have dual-SIM slots, which is a common feature in competitive markets like China and India. If true, this move will hopefully give Apple a much needed boost after its recent iPhone sales decline.
Update: We’ve updated our article with new information regarding the special variant that will apparently be keeping the headphone jack, as well as the above image of a purported iPhone 7 chassis without the headphone jack.