All posts in “Photos”

Messenger adds support for sharing HD video, 360-degree photos

Perhaps aiming to snag some attention away from Snapchat’s big group video call update out this morning, Facebook also announced an update to its chat app Messenger, which will now allow users to share 360-degree videos and HD quality video (720p). In both cases, you’ll have to capture the photo or video outside the Messenger app, the company notes.

The update follows another that rolled out last fall, allowing users to share high-resolution photos through Messenger – something that Facebook said was the result of its significant investments in helping people “communicate visually.”

The idea that mobile messaging is often a camera-first experience isn’t unique to Facebook Messenger, of course – it’s the premise of the Snapchat experience and, these days, Instagram too.

Unfortunately for Facebook, news of improved media-sharing capabilities comes at a time when the company is under siege for its mishandling of user data, and, most recently, another reveal that it had been retaining videos that users believed to be deleted. The broader effect of this news cycle around Facebook’s approach to privacy, is an increased general mistrust of Facebook’s products as the place to share – including sharing through Messenger, which isn’t as distanced from the core product as Facebook-owned Instagram and Whatsapp are.

Facebook says if you want to share a 360-degree photo, you’ll need to first snap it with your camera or another 360-photo app before uploading it to Messenger where it will then be converted to an immersive experience that can be navigated through by the recipients via either tapping and dragging on mobile, or clicking and dragging on Messenger.com.

Similarly, HD videos will need to be first captured from the phone, or re-shared from the Facebook Newsfeed or other messages.

The rollout of the HD feature is limited to select markets for now, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the U.K. and the U.S. on iOS and Android.

360 photos, however, are available worldwide on iOS and Android.

Kano’s latest gadget: a build-it-yourself camera for custom photo filters and GIFs


After raising $28 million last November to add more firepower to its growth, Kano is unveiling the newest addition to its range of build-it-yourself gadgets that you use to learn to code: a camera.

London-based Kano is using this week’s CES in Las Vegas to show off a full prototype of the new Camera Kit — designed to work with Kano’s existing suite of gadgets, which include a computer kit, a motion sensor and the Pixel animated lightbox.

The camera is launching at an unspecified date later this year, so there’s no official price attached to it yet (although a Kickstarter page giving a sneak peak of it last year said it would cost $129.99). You can register your interest for ordering one here.

As with its previous hardware — which has been used by around 200,000 people globally, who have coded and posted to Kano’s community over more than 380,000 apps, artworks, songs and games that they’ve created using that hardware — the idea behind the Kano’s camera is two-fold.

First, the company aims to make tech and the use of it more accessible by demystifying how it works by giving people the components and instructions to assemble the camera themselves. Second, it then carries on the step-by-step nature by gradually introducing different functions and showing users how to use them to build software for their newly-assembled hardware.

While the lightbox, for example, let you create light-based artwork and games, the camera gives users the ability to “code” it to make different photo filters, GIFs, and to modify the settings for how the image is captured in the first place.

Adding a camera into the mix is an important step for Kano.

With the rise of smartphones and mobile phones in general — and their move into becoming a near-ubiquitous computing and communications device for younger people — the camera has become one of the most significant and used features of these devices. These days, having a device for capturing and manipulating images would feel like something important is missing, not just for users but for Kano itself as part of its mission.

“What we are doing here has not really been attempted for several decades,” CEO and co-founder Alex Klein told me last year. “We are building a computing company end to end.” 

What this also means is that having one as part of the Kano suite gives the whole platform a new profile with a new group of users. There will always be those who are happy tinkering with any gadget and learning how it works, but potentially, those who may be less interested in building games, might be more interested in figuring out how a digital camera works and customising it.

“Our goal is to open up technology, so that anyone can understand and shape it,” said Klein in a statement today. “We are thrilled to bring simple, playful, creative computing to CES for the first time.”

Part of that mission has been also to use different channels to appeal to a wider audience. That’s included revealing new devices and uses in YouTube videos, and sneak-peaks on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter. The page where Kano had first unveiled the camera among other new gadgets last year has already picked up more than $643,000 in backing.

Kano also, of course, also uses more traditional routes to sell products. Its devices are sold in Best Buys and Targets in North America, selected Walmart stores, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Indigo, Microsoft, The Source and Toys R Us — some 4,500 retailers in all.

Snapchat’s newest filters can recognize what’s in your photos


Snapchat is rolling out new filters that can recognize what’s in your photos in order to suggest graphics, like borders or stickers, to accompany your posts. These filters today are capable of recognizing images of objects like pets, sports, and food, as well as specific locations, like beaches or concerts.

The quiet release of the new filters was first spotted by Mashable, which confirmed the rollout with a company spokesperson.

The filters will appear as options in the carousel of filters after the user takes a photo matching one of the above categories, the report also noted.

The addition is an extension of Snapchat’s existing smart filters, including those that are based on where you are at the moment, also known as geofilters. Before, the smart filter carousel had featured smart filters that would show things like time, temperature or speed, but these have now been moved to the creative tool bar, where they’re available as stickers.

Being able to identify what’s in a photo in order to suggest filters could impact Snap’s advertising business in the future, as brands could target users based on the images they’re capturing, instead of just targeting a location or set of interests, as they do now. The company had also filed a patent for an advertising system patent back in 2015, which was published last July, the report said.

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Object recognition is a standard for many of today’s photo-sharing apps, including Apple’s Photos app, Google Photos, Amazon’s Prime Photos, and more. But in most cases, it’s been put to use to help surface photos of a certain nature, not to suggest ways to augment those photos with stickers and other decorations, with the more recent exception of Microsoft’s Skype, which added a similar feature called “Photo Effects” earlier this month.

This is not the first time Snapchat has offered image recognition capabilities, though. The company already lets users search across Stories by keywords for the objects in question (like “dogs”), or to search through their Snapchat Memories.

The launch of the filters comes just ahead of a significant redesign of the Snapchat application, which will focus on making the app easier to use for older people, while also sorting the Stories feed algorithmically, instead of in reverse-chronological order as it does now.

Image credits: Mashable

Featured Image: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/Getty Images

Skype launches Photo Effects – sticker suggestions powered by machine learning


Not content with merely launching its own take on Instagram and Snapchat’s Stories, Skype today is adding another copycat-like feature to its app: photo stickers. The company says it’s introducing new “Photo Effects” (as it’s calling these stickers), which include things like face masks, decorative borders, witty captions, and more. However, unlike the photo stickers you’ll find in other social apps today, Skype will actually suggest the stickers to use based on the photo’s content, day of the week, and other options.

The new feature is based on technology Microsoft introduced earlier this year in a silly camera app called Sprinkles.

The Sprinkles app leverages Microsoft’s machine learning and A.I. capabilities to do things like detect faces in photos, determine the subject’s age and emotion, figure out your celebrity look-a-like, and suggest captions. It then lets you swipe through its suggestions – for example, various props to add to your photo, funny captions, and stickers displaying its guess about your age, among other things.

Similarly, Skype will suggest its photo effects automatically with a press of a button.

To use the feature, you’ll first snap a photo then tap the magic wand icon at the top of the screen to access the photo effects.

As you swipe right through the suggestions, you’ll be prompted to add things to your photo like a smart face sticker, the weather, your location, a caption that references the day (e.g. “turn that frown upside down, it’s taco Tuesday!”), face masks, a celebrity look-a-like, or even a mystery face swap.

Microsoft says these photo effects will change often – like on different days of the week or holidays, for instance.

The resulting image can be shared with Skype friends in a conversation or posted to Skype’s new Highlights feature, which is the Instagram/Snapchat Stories clone introduced earlier this year.

Like Stories on other platforms, Highlights are somewhat ephemeral. But instead of lasting a day, they’re available for a week. They’re also not shared with your entire Skype network – only those who have opted to follow your Highlights directly.

Highlights remains a mobile-only feature for now. When Skype’s revamped interface launched to desktop users in October, Microsoft told us Highlights was not a priority for desktop integration at this time, based on user feedback. However, the company insisted it still aims to bring Highlights to the desktop in a later release.

The addition of Photo Effects is arriving on Skype for mobile users in the latest update. Skype’s release notes list Photo Effects as “upcoming” in Android version 8.10.0.4 and iOS 8.10.0.5. This version began rolling out on Monday, but will gradually release to the install base over the next week.

Album+ organizes photos with A.I. that runs on your phone, not in the cloud


A new iOS app called Album+ is taking advantage of the increased A.I. capabilities and GPUs in modern iPhones to help people better manage their photos. The app’s features are similar to those found in something like Google Photos – it can also de-duplicate photos, for example, as well as categorize the people, places, and objects it finds in your images. But the difference is that Album+ organizes and ranks photos using on-device, offline machine learning – there’s no need to connect with the cloud, that is.

This allows for increased consumer privacy, the company explains.

“We believe user content privacy will be the main concern for consumers over the next decade,” says Sam Sabri, head of growth at Polarr, the company behind Album+. “No one wants to upload their photos to a server that might leak their behavioral patterns to advertising companies, but most people still need the computing services provided by the cloud, such as image classification and search categorizations,” he says. “Our team spent a lot of time compressing A.I. models to make sure they can run fast and energy-efficient on mobile devices.”

The app also demonstrates how powerful smartphones have become.

Like Google Photos, Album+ can also automatically recognize, categorize and organize the people, objects, places, documents and receipts in your photos. It can remove duplicate photos and other poorly shot images, as well as rank similar photos based on aesthetics. And it offers a variety of tools to help you do more with photos – like a collage maker, and a way to batch edit hundreds of photos at once to do things like apply filters, mass delete, etc.

Above: Album+ finding similar photos

But what’s notable about the app is not necessarily its feature set alone, rather that it’s doing the work on the device.

“We believe we’re the first company that’s able to run A.I. image clustering, face recognition, aesthetic ranking object and scene detection fast and efficient across entire user albums,” says Sabri.

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Polarr is not new to the photo app market.

The company is already cashflow-positive thanks to its flagship product, Polarr Photo Editor, released two years ago. That app has 10 million users and landed on Apple’s “best of the App Store” lists in both 2015 and 2016.

In fact, the success of Polarr Photo Editor led to the creation of Album+, as the company already had a large data set on hand it could use to train its machine learning models. It combined this with public data sets to create its own machine learning technology that’s used to organize and classify iPhone photos.

Because its machine learning requires a more powerful phone, Album+ only runs on iPhone 6 and up. The app also uses different machine learning models that execute at a different speed and accuracy, depending on which device you’re using. On iPhone X, for example, the app will switch to iOS 11’s CoreML framework to run its fastest model, the company says.

The Stanford team of ten worked on Album+ for more than six months ahead of its recent release. Apple has since featured it in the “New Apps We Love section” of the iOS App Store.

However, the consumer version may ultimately serve as a technology demo for Polarr’s developer-facing business. The company has also created an SDK to help other developers and vendors run A.I. offline on devices, and this is now in testing with a few partners.

For consumers, Album+’s full feature set, including unlimited photo indexing, is available via subscription for either $1.99/month or $12.99/year.

The app is available on iOS, iPhone 6 and higher, here.