Microsoft’s Thinga.Me app turns images of real-world stuff into digital objects

Microsoft’s Garage skunkworks is responsible for all sorts of digital experiments, mostly in the form of apps that vary in degrees of usefulness. That’s partially the point, as it’s the company’s proving ground for mobile experiments, and its hits outnumber its misses.

Among its products, there’s Word Flow, the curvy virtual keyboard that makes it easier to type one-handed; Mimicker Alarm, a clock which forces you to complete challenging games in order to silence sounds; and Fetch!, an iOS app that distinguishes dog breeds based on pics. And now there’s another: Thinga.Me, an app which is best described as a sort of Pinterest for real-world objects.

Thinga.Me’s tagline is “collecting things, not photos,” and that’s a fairly apt description. Here’s the basic idea: if you stumble upon an object that you really want to remember and share — a particularly arresting piece of street art, for instance, or a unique pub coaster — you can snap a pic with Thinga.Me.

The app detects, isolates, snips away the background using GrabCut (a ten-year-old product of Microsoft’s Research division, apparently), and then lets you fine-tune the result to ensure unwanted bits don’t blend into the aforementioned object. The finished product is a digital memento that you can “place” on Thinga.Me’s digital shelves. It’s like the digital equivalent of a stamp collection.

The concept isn’t new. Product Camera, a popular Android camera app by imaging startup Camera51, similarly masks out the background behind the subjects of photos to create “digital objects.” But Thinga.Me is unique in its depth of features: you can tag particular objects, put together a showcase of your favorites, and share collections with your social media followers and friends.

“As a team, we’ve been frustrated that there aren’t decent tools that allow us to digitize … [the] physical things that we care about … in a way that makes them look great,” Microsoft said in a blog post. “Thinga.Me is designed to fill this gap. [The] simple act of removing an item from its background starts to make it feel less like a photo and more like a physical thing, even though it’s still a digital representation.”

That last point is debatable, of course — there’s a very palpable difference between a figurine and a photo of a figurine — but at the same time, there’s an undeniable appeal to collating cool objects in a digital scrapbook. It’s the same sort of ingrained urge that drives some folks to collect baseball cards and matchbooks, and, assuming it’s an emotion on which Thinga.Me is able to capitalize, the app should have no trouble developing a passionate following.

Thinga.Me isn’t publicly available, yet, but Microsoft is accepting sign-ups for a future iOS beta.


From 11K to just OK: The biggest photo gear announcements at CES 2019

From 11K cameras to 1 TB media cards, CES 2019 brought a peek at new gear for photographers and videographers. But what photography gear grabbed our attention the most? Here are the biggest photo gear announcements from CES 2019.

We tried all the latest and greatest smartphones to find the best of 2019

Smartphones are perhaps the most important and personal piece of tech on the planet. That’s why it’s important to pick the best phone for your individual needs. Here are the best smartphones you can buy.

What to look for and what to avoid when buying a camera

Looking to buy a new camera? Our comprehensive camera guide for 2016 has answers to any camera or photography questions you might ask, whether in regards to pricing, image quality, or weatherproofing.

Still have holiday cash to blow? Grab one of these awesome Xbox One games

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.

Benchmark scores surface for Google's midrange Pixel 3 XL Lite

The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are considered to be two of the best Android smartphones, but it looks like Google could be prepping a midrange line. Say hello to the Pixel 3 Lite and Pixel 3 Lite XL.

Rumors say Apple's AirPower wireless charger may finally be in production

At its September event in 2018, Apple unveiled the AirPower, a new wireless charging mat that will allow you to charge multiple devices at one time. It has not yet been released. Here's everything we know about the device so far.

Beam up the videos: AirPlay support is coming to VLC player

At CES 2019, the developers of VLC player announced they are adding support for Apple's Airplay feature, allowing consumers to beam video and other content from their iPhone and Android devices to an Apple TV. 

The LG G8 ThinQ may arrive at MWC 2019 with an on-screen speaker

LG is expected to release a successor to the LG G7 ThinQ, possibly called the LG G8 ThinQ, this year and rumors about it are already spreading. Here's everything we know about it so far.

Oppo could reveal a new smartphone with a 10x optical zoom

Cracking a solid zoom on smartphones has been a riddle many years in the solving. One company may have finally cracked it though: Oppo may be about to show off a phone with a 10x optical zoom.

Nike’s Adapt BB shoes let you tighten your laces with an iPhone

The new Nike Adapt BB shoe comes with smartphone connectivity that allows the user to tighten the laces using a smartphone while providing the ability to adjust tension throughout the game.

How to switch TicHealth to Google Fit on the Mobvoi TicWatch C2 and TicWatch Pro

The Mobvoi TicWatch C2 and TicWatch Pro are both much-loved and feature-packed watches, and they offer excellent fitness tracking. Recently, Mobvoi has switched out Google Fit for TicHealth, but you can switch them back. Here's how.

If you're looking for a good laugh, here are 70 questions to ask Siri

Siri has come a long way since her first appearance on the iPhone 4S in 2011. We know she can make appointments and give directions, did you know she can make you laugh too? If you want proof, here are lots of funny questions to ask Siri.

Benchmark results show Snapdragon 855 destroys previous-generation chip

Almost exactly a year after the launch of the Snapdragon 845, Qualcomm took the wraps off of its next-generation mobile platform, the new Snapdragon 855. The new chip puts an emphasis on A.I. performance.

On a budget? We found the best affordable smartphones you can buy

Here are the best cheap phones for anyone working with a tight budget, whether you're a fan of stock Android or marathon battery life. Find out what you can get for under $500 or far, far less as we round up the best budget smartphones.