Microsoft Pix App for iOS Uses AI to Spruce Up Photos

Already used to add polish to selfies and spur-of-the-moment snapshots, Microsoft's Pix app gains some AI-assisted capabilities for the workplace.

Microsoft Pix Photo AI

Microsoft has updated its Pix photo optimization app for iOS, adding some new deep-learning capabilities that help tidy up mobile snapshots.

The Redmond, Wash. software maker released Pix in 2016 as an alternative to the stock iPhone camera app. Pix captures a rapid burst of photos, and using artificial technologies (AI) from Microsoft Research's Computational Photography group, it selects a handful of the best shots and discards the rest to save on storage space.

Those deleted images don't go to waste, however. The app uses data from all the frames taken in a burst before they're deleted to enhance the final product, automatically removing noise and adjusting for color, tone and facial brightness.

Besides snapping Instagram-worthy vacation photos, Pix version 1.1.3 can now help office dwellers get work done.

"The updated app automatically detects whiteboards, documents and business cards in real time and intelligently adjusts camera settings for these types of photos," said Microsoft representative John Roach in a Sept. 14 announcement. "Once the shutter clicks, the app uses AI to improve the image, such as cropping edges, boosting color and tone, sharpening focus and tweaking the angle to render the image in a straight-on perspective."

After a meeting, Pix users are no longer required to wait for the room to clear out to capture head-on pictures of a whiteboard, documents or Post-it notes containing important information. The updated app now allows them to stand off to the side and take a photo at an angle, after which the app automatically aligns the image and generates a crisp picture that allows users to view the contents directly.

The latest version of Pix also allows users to apply styles to captured documents and whiteboards. For example, users can now create a lined notebook effect using a picture of a whiteboard, said Roach. The technology is based on the app's style transfer technology that turns photographs into artistic renditions.

The new functionality bears some similarities to the Office Lens app's document and business card scanning features—it, too, can straighten out documents taken at an angle—acknowledged Roach, but Microsoft views the two apps as "complementary."

Office Lens was built with productivity in mind and integrates with the Office productivity software suite. Pix, on the other hand, is meant to push "the boundaries of using AI to take better pictures," said Roach.

Generally, the advances made in Microsoft Pix are used to influence the direction of Office Lens and other apps, he said. Improving Pix's AI capabilities are part of an effort to create an app that does a better job of interpreting a user's intentions and completing tasks intelligently.

Pix version 1.1.3 is available now in the Apple App Store.

Of course, Microsoft isn't the only tech titan that's using AI to help deliver prettier pixels.

In July, Google announced a project involving a machine-learning system that turns Street View images, which often appear warped and somewhat muted, into vibrant, professional quality panoramas. Some before and after photos can be viewed in this Google Research blog post.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...