TechCrunch reports that Apple has acquired Regaind, a French computer vision startup that specializes in working out if photos are interesting. TechCrunch cites “multiple sources” in saying that the acquisition has happened, but the terms of the deal and any official confirmation remain a mystery.
“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” Apple told TechCrunch, the standard boilerplate it uses when talking about acquisitions.
Regaind’s technology appears to center around getting a computer to recognize if a photo is “good” or not. A series of video demos from last year shows how an algorithm is able to judge a photo’s adherence to certain aesthetic rules, like framing, lighting, and composition.
In a job posting last year, Regaind described its purpose:
Our mission is to do much more with the 4 billion photos taken every day in the world, instead of leaving them unexploited. To do that, Regaind builds an artificial intelligence applied to the problem of sorting pictures. The algorithms we create use state of the art deep learning expertise. They understand which photos matter to people in terms of content, emotion/action and aesthetics, in order to make the uses of photography pleasant and immediate. Our clients are companies for which the abundancy of photos is a pain: printing services, stock photo agencies, cloud storage providers, camera makers…
The applications for Apple’s products are relatively obvious. Apple has put a lot of work into the AI component of its Photos app on iOS already. It will automatically surface the best images from the last year and turn them into a Memories slideshow, and help you find multiple images of the same event.
Regaind’s tech could take things a step further. To start, it could improve Apple’s existing photo montages to get you a highlight-reel version of your latest trip. It could encourage you to take burst photos more frequently, with the algorithm automatically sorting through the burst to find the best photo.
It could even take the shutter control out of your hands: hold the camera up and point it at the thing you want to photograph, and your iPhone could automatically crop the photo to get the best composition, and take the photo at the optimal time to get the best shot.
With smartphone cameras starting to hit physical limits for improvement, Apple (and other phone makers) have increasingly looked to software to make pictures better. Last year, it was the Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus, which used software (and a dual-lens setup) to imitate the shallow depth of field you get with a DSLR. This year, the iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus added a Studio Lighting mode that messes with the natural image even more.