UPDATED 14:22 EDT / DECEMBER 13 2019

apple AI

Apple buys computational photography specialist Spectral Edge

Apple Inc.’s latest startup pickup is U.K.-based computational photography provider Spectral Edge Ltd., Bloomberg reported late Thursday.

The outlet, citing public regulatory filings, detailed that an Apple corporate lawyer recently joined the company’s board and replaced all the previous directors. Spectral Edge has furthermore taken its website offline.

Cambridge-based Spectral Edge started out nine years ago as an academic project at the University of East Anglia. Under the leadership of founder Robert Swann, a video processing researcher who sold an earlier venture to Broadcom Inc., the startup developed a machine learning product for improving the quality of photos and videos. Spectral Edge integrates images taken with an infrared sensor into the original picture or clip to produce more life-like colors.

Apple might be planning to use the technology enhance the cameras on the iPhone and iPad. The devices don’t currently have an infrared sensor, which means Apple will likely add one if it moves forward with the development of a Spectral Edge-powered image enhancement function.

There are a number of specific areas where the startup’s technology could prove particularly helpful. Spectral Edge has demonstrated that it can noticeably improve the sharpness of photos taken in low-light conditions, while carrier NTT Data Corp. is using the software to help its broadcasting business deliver higher quality video content. Apple could potentially do something similar with its own streaming services.

A third application the iPhone maker might pursue is improving content accessibility on its devices. Before jumping into the mobile market, Spectral Edge had created a TV device called Eyeteq that could modify streaming media to help people with colorblindness better differentiate shades.

But Apple’s main priority will likely be boosting the fidelity of its handset cameras given the big-picture dynamics in the mobile market. The company and major rivals have made photography a core pillar of their strategy for capturing consumer interest amid slowing global smartphone sales.

Apple is reportedly readying a laser-based 3D camera for the next iPhone that will sharpen the quality of photos taken by the main rear shooter, while Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. is rumored to have a 108-megapixel lens in the works. 

Photo: Apple

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