Apple receives patent for social distancing group selfies

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Apple received a patent for synthetic group selfies.
Image: Patently Apple

Socialization certainly isn’t what it was at this point last year. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are finding it more difficult to hang out with friends and family. Today’s “group selfie” is probably nothing more than a screenshot taken during a Zoom meeting.

A patent freshly secured by Apple could change that. The iPhone maker has reportedly been granted a patent for computer-generated “synthetic group selfies.”

It’s an interesting concept that could help keep users connected in an age of social distancing.

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Selfies from Afar

Oddly enough, Apple’s patent was originally filed almost two years ago. Conspiracies of Apple predicting the future aside, it looks incredibly useful today. It was first discovered by Patently Apple after being awarded on June 2 of this year.

The patent describes Apple’s idea for synthetic group selfies as “an arrangement or composition of individual selfies obtained from a plurality of computing devices into a single group image.”

In a world where social distancing remains key, it could be a useful and fun new feature. It would hypothetically allow users to create group photos without being next to each other. The feature uses still pictures, videos, or even live-streamed content to create a final image. Patently Apple notes that users could even combine all three formats.

Using the group selfie tool, users would also be able to make edits such as rearranging the individuals in the photo.

Of course, creating group pictures in this way is no easy task. The feature would need to take into account things like different backgrounds, lighting conditions, and camera quality. Fortunately, the patent revealed a plan for that. Computational tasks are split up between devices to decrease the load on any one phone or tablet. Meanwhile, it could receive assistance from artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that do a majority of the heavy lifting.

Will it Happen?

Although the granting of this patent is certainly intriguing, it isn’t a guarantee that Apple will roll out the feature—if it has actually been created at all. While a group selfie mode would make for an excellent iPhone feature, it wouldn’t be an easy one to implement.

Creating a synthetic group selfie is a technologically complex process. It would almost certainly require the use of a special AI program. At this point, it isn’t clear whether Apple is willing to invest that kind of time and money into a feature that might be seen as a gimmick.

Although it would certainly be useful right now while millions are practicing social distancing, synthetic group selfies may not be appealing a few years from now.

It could be years before the patent’s contents become an actual feature, or it may never happen. Regardless, it is an interesting look into the way that Apple views the future of photography. The company has a rich history of innovating smartphone picture-taking, so seeing it introduce another novel feature wouldn’t exactly be surprising. Still, users shouldn’t hold their breath.

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