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Apple acquisition points to possibility of easy background removal in photos

A recent Apple investment could make it possible for iPhones to easily separate the background and the subject from photos and video. A recent report by a Danish newspaper suggests that Apple acquired Spektral, a company focusing on green screen-like effects without the green screen, back in December 2017. Apple has not yet confirmed or commented on the report (the company rarely comments on acquisitions).

According to Fortune, Spektral gots its start working on software to digitally swap out backgrounds using a technique similar to the popular green screen. A few years later, however, and the company’s engineers moved on to machine learning that could cut out people without requiring that green screen.

Spektral, which originally started as CloudCutout allowing for background swaps in school photos, eventually moved onto to removing the background from product photos, and then, in 2016, cutting out video without requiring extra gear like that green screen. The company says the algorithms can cut out video in real time.

Spektral’s website suggests that smartphones are next. “In the beginning of 2017 we have been working fiercely without algorithms on getting this cool technology available on a smartphone and thereby enabling anyone and anywhere to create mixed reality content.”

The report suggests the acquisition happened for more than $30 million. Without a confirmation from Apple, exactly what the integration of Spektral technology means is speculation. Looking at the company’s statements on the website in bringing mixed reality to smartphones makes the integration easy to imagine as expansion for Apple’s augmented reality, however. 

If Apple has the technology to cut out a person from any scene in real time, it’s easy to imagine importing yourself into an augmented reality world instead of bringing imaginary objects into yours. Spektral’s products also cut out the background from product photos, which could serve useful for further development of AR shopping experiences that allow you to place the object in your own home, as Fortune suggests.

Spectral isn’t the first exploring background removal from a mobile device. Google announced testing for a tool to remove backgrounds for video earlier this year. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology , Adobe, and Microsoft also recently worked together to separate the background in images around fine edges using machine learning.

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