Thursday, June 20, 2024

My Favorite iOS 16 Feature: Tap to Lift a Pet Out of a Photo

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This story is part of WWDC 2022, CNET’s complete coverage from and about Apple’s annual developers conference.

Apple stuffed previews of MacOS Ventura, iPadOS 16, WatchOS 9 and, of course, iOS 16 into its nearly two-hour WWDC keynote. The next major version of iPhone software will include editable Messages and a customizable lock screen. But there was one feature that truly grabbed my attention Monday, despite taking up less than 15 seconds of the event. 

The feature doesn’t have a name, but here’s how it works: You tap and hold on a photo to separate a picture’s subject (like a person) from the background. And if you keep holding, you can then “lift” the cutout from the photo and drag it into another app to post, share or make a collage for example.

Technically, the tap-and-lift photo feature is part of Visual Lookup, which was first launched with iOS 15 and can recognize objects in your photos such as plants, food, landmarks and even pets. In iOS 16, Visual Lookup let you lift that object out of a photo or PDF by doing nothing more than tapping and holding.

Robby Walker, Apple senior director of Siri Language and Technologies, demonstrated the new tap-and-lift tool on a photo of a French bulldog. The dog was “cut out” of the photo and then dragged and dropped into the text field of a message.

“It feels like magic,” Walker said.

Sometimes Apple overuses the word “magic,” but this tool does seem impressive. Walker was quick to point out that the effect was the result of an advanced machine-learning model, which is accelerated by core machine learning and Apple’s neural engine to perform 40 billion operations in a second.

Knowing the amount of processing and machine learning required to cut a dog out of a photo thrills me to no end. Many times new phone features need to be revolutionary or solve a serious problem. I guess you could say that the tap-and-hold tool solves the problem of removing the background of a photo, which to at least some could be a serious matter.

I couldn’t help notice the similarity to another photo feature in iOS 16. On the lock screen, the photo editor separates the foreground subject from the background of the photo used for your wallpaper. This makes it so lock screen elements like the time and date can be layered behind the subject of your wallpaper but in front of the photo’s background. It makes it look like the cover of a magazine.

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