Microsoft's Latest Garage App Crafts Stories From Photos

The new app uses Microsoft Research's work in computational photography to automatically create shareable videos that tell a story.

Microsoft mobile app

A new Windows Phone app from Microsoft Research and Garage, a rapid consumer app development group within the software giant, gathers and organizes photos, helping users create sharable visual stories.

Dubbed simply Photo Story, the free app "automatically chooses the best representative photos of an event and organizes them into a themed video, complete with stylized music and editing, allow[ing] you to easily share via email or social media," wrote Microsoft content manager George Thomas, in a Next at Microsoft blog post. The software's aim is to help average users share life's moments without firing up an image or video editor.

"The app, a Microsoft Garage Project, relies on machine learning and computer vision to auto-select the best representative photos, so there's no risk of including duplicates or low-quality photos," he continued. An accompanying YouTube video walks prospective users through the process of creating a "photo story."

After users select a cover photo, the app uses computer vision technology to "pick the best additional photos taken around the same time," explained the video's narrator. Users then select a theme and soundtrack.

The app then generates a mobile-optimized video with polished transitions, which can be tweaked further by manually adding or removing photos and changing the title, theme and soundtrack. Users can also get the process started with Microsoft's virtual assistant, Cortana. By speaking the "Story from today" command, the app begins automatically selecting photos.

Photo Story's photo-picking technology hails from the Computational Photography group within Microsoft Research. "We work on both early-stage research and turning promising research into applications that you can run on your own phones and computers," states the team's home page.

Earlier examples include the Hyperlapse apps for Windows PCs, Windows Phone and Android smartphones. The group also is responsible for Image Composite Editor, which is able to create image panoramas from videos.

"These apps have been used by millions of people to improve their photography through the use of sophisticated technologies, including image alignment, image de-noising, multi-image fusion, image understanding, 3D reconstruction, user interfaces for photography, GPU image processing and more," stated the group. For Photo Story, lead developer Krishnan Ramnath, a senior research software development engineer at Microsoft, focused on keeping a virtual eye out for "interestingness" within a collection of images.

"You can also have a very high-quality photo of a road or a blade of grass, but that's not necessarily interesting enough to qualify for the story," Ramnath is quoted as saying in the post. Further, the software knows how to create engaging experiences that don't overstay their welcome. "For example, if you took 200 photos, the algorithm understands that five may not be enough photos. Likewise, it doesn't choose too many," he added.

In a bit of a reversal from Microsoft's "cloud-first" business strategy, Photo Story is processed entirely on a Windows Phone, sparing users the wait for cloud data transfers. "We want the user to get immediate access to the story," Ramnath said.

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 network of...