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There’s one popular AI feature that Apple should never bring to the iPhone

Published Jun 14th, 2024 10:28AM EDT
Apple Intelligence running on iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
Image: Apple Inc.

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As expected, Apple unveiled its suite of AI features coming to iPhone, iPad, and Mac this year. Dubbed Apple Intelligence, Apple’s AI includes a personalized Siri AI experience, and a bunch of generative AI features that might be available already on competing platforms.

Unsurprisingly, the Photos app also gets new AI features in iOS 18. Specifically, you can remove objects and people from images. But that’s it. The iPhone will not get a Magic Editor tool like the one Google made for Google Photos. Magic Editor is an AI feature that lets you alter your photographs and make them look completely different from the original photo.

I hated Magic Editor from the start, and I’m glad iOS 18 doesn’t have an equivalent. I sincerely hope Apple never adds a feature like Magic Editor to the iPhone.

Google demoed Magic Editor at I/O 2023, showing how easy it is to create fake photos. This went beyond what Magic Eraser does, which is to remove unwanted objects from photographs. You could change the placement of objects and even do things like change the weather, all so you can get that perfect shot. That perfect shot of a memory that never existed.

I’m all for editing photos on mobile devices. There’s nothing wrong with changing things like the brightness and warmth of an image. Apply filters on top of that to get the desired effects. And, by all means, remove that person or object that wasn’t supposed to be in the shot. But the essence of the image should remain intact. It’s a photograph of something that happened.

When you start moving parts of the images around and changing the weather, well, you’re getting into Photoshop territory. You’re making fake images that you might then share and spread online. Bad actors can easily abuse this, especially considering there is no easy way to mark and spot fake images made with AI.

An image edited with generative AI (Magic Editor) in Google Photos.
An image edited with generative AI (Magic Editor) in Google Photos. Image source: Google

Here’s how Google described the image above, altered with Magic Editor:

Take this picture of a boy on his birthday (image above). It’s a good photo but it could be better if he was front and center. With the power of generative AI, you can create more of the bench and balloons to fill in those gaps, and they’ll blend seamlessly into your photo. The end result? A stunning shot that captures the feeling of his big day.

I’m glad Apple isn’t going to let you “capture the feeling” by letting you create fake images with AI on the iPhone.

Some might argue that Apple’s on-device AI can’t match Google’s AI, and that would be a valid point. But I will say it’s more than that. Apple made a deliberate choice, as we saw elsewhere during WWDC. Apple Intelligence also has “Image Playground” functionality that lets you generate images from scratch.

But Apple made it clear that it’s a tech meant to create “playful” AI-generated images. We’re not getting photorealistic imagery here. All the examples that Apple showed make that abundantly clear. Anyone getting genAI images made on iPhone in iOS 18 will understand these aren’t real photos.

Even the Genmoji feature is designed in such a way to prevent you from abusing it. You can create Genmoji based on yourself or friends, but they’ll look like cartoony versions of the subjects.

Image Playground app on iPad.
Image Playground app on iPad. Image source: Apple Inc.

Combine that with the absence of a Magic Editor equivalent in Photos, and it sure seems like Apple doesn’t want to make it easy for you to create fake images that look like the real thing.

Will Apple ever release a Magic Editor alternative? I hope not, but I get why the company might feel compelled to. Apple might want to prove that its AI is so good it can create altered images similar to what’s available from competitors. Whether that happens later in iOS 18 or a future iPhone update, I hope Apple will also have a good way to indicate that these images are AI-generated.

If you absolutely need Magic Editor on your iPhone, you can try it out in Google’s Photos app.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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