Google finds photos faster


Have you worked with Google’s Image Search? I found many a photo execs pic there when I couldn’t track it down anywhere else. (It’s amazing how many companies in the photo industry have websites without pictures of their latest products or important personnel.) Now that task may get even easier, as the Web search leader has once again tweaked it photo finding features.

“People looking for images on Google often want to browse through many images, looking both at the images and their metadata,” the company says. “Based on feedback from both users and webmasters, we redesigned Google Images to provide a better search experience. In the next few days, you’ll see image results displayed in an inline panel so it’s faster, more beautiful, and more reliable. You will be able to quickly flip through a set of images by using the keyboard. If you want to go back to browsing other search results, just scroll down and pick up right where you left off.”


• Metadata will now appear underneath the image in the search results, instead of redirecting users to a separate landing page.

• Key information will be featured much more prominently next to the image: the title of the page hosting the image, the domain name it comes from, and the image size.




Apple, Google to acquire Kodak imaging patents


Apple and Google teamed to offer more than $500 million to buy Kodak’s  imaging patents, Bloomberg reported late last week.

With their two leading smartphone operating systems, iOS and Android, the two companies have dominant positions in mobile imaging, and doubtless would rather not face patent infringement claims from any potential rival buying Kodak’s intellectual property.

It’s not an uncommon move: Apple worked with Microsoft and Research in Motion to acquire 6,000 patents for $4.5 billion from bankrupt Nortel Networks last year.

Kodak, in the midst of bankruptcy and reorganization, seeks to sell 1,100 imaging patents.

Kodak has claimed the patents may be worth more than $2 billion, but others counter the patents are already too widely licensed to be of much further value.

More on the story is here.



Google to buy Viewdle for $45 million


Visual analysis company Viewdle may be the latest acquisition of Google; the search leader is reportedly paying about $45 million for the Ukraine-based imaging firm.

Motorola, the handset maker acquired this year by Google, was reportedly interested in Viewdle last year.

Acting CEO Jason Mitura participated in our social imaging earlier this year; you can read his outspoken views in the 6Sight Magazine here:

As we reported last year, Viewdle developed SocialCamera, a free Android app that adds face recognition to identify “the people you take photos of the most, and tag them for you,” the company says. SocialCamera creates a “faceprint of your friends, so you can automatically match their social contact info to their picture. Your camera will know who to send your photos to,” via Flickr, Facebook, email, or MMS.

We first covered Viewdle way back 2007, noting the company claimed its facial recognition technology recognizes a face after seeing it just once —and its video indexing and reference system fuses its facial-recognition visual analysis technology with other search techniques  for frame-by-frame analysis that indexes video at 55 frames per second —“nearly instantaneously.”



Google’s Android Goggles see sales

An update to the phone-camera-using Goggles for Android makes its easier to use the app to shop and “discover products that are right for you,” Google says.

The app’s product recognition is improved, with increased coverage of products and barcodes, the company says, “with a focus on international products and barcodes. Give it a whirl while you’re traveling.”

Users can also now browse similar products. “Have you ever struggled to replace a favorite dress?” Google asks. “Goggles can help you find products that are similar to something you’ve owned or seen before.”

When you turn on Goggles within the Android Camera app, the company adds, “as you go about your life taking photos, Google will provide you with relevant information on the things you’ve photographed. It’s a great way to learn more about what you see around you, especially when traveling.”


Street View goes to the Space Center

To celebrate the Kennedy Space Center’s 50th birthday, Google took its Street View cameras into the famous Florida facility and captured multiple panoramic pictures with which you can purview the rockets, shuttles, and more.

“Countless enthusiasts grew up longing to see a space shuttle up close and walk in the paths of astronauts,” Google says. “Today, a collaboration between NASA and Street View is enabling people around the world to take a trip to the doorway to outer space, and see Kennedy as it transitions into a multipurpose launch complex for the next 50 years of space innovation.”

The space center is now Google’s largest special collection of Street View imagery to date, the company says, “totaling 6,000 panoramic views of the facilities, and expanding our mission to document the world’s most amazing places.”

Among the images to explore online are the space shuttle launch pad, Vehicle Assembly Building, and Launch Firing Room #4. “Gaze down from the top of the enormous launch pad, peer up at the towering ceiling of the Vehicle Assembly Building (taller than the Statue of Liberty) and get up close to one of the space shuttle’s main engines, which is powerful enough to generate 400,000 pounds of thrust,” Google adds. “From these vantage points, anyone can live out his or her childhood dream of becoming an astronaut.”



Fujifilm sues Motorola Mobility for patent infringement

Fujifilm says that after more of failed patent license discussions, it is suing Google’s recently-acquired mobile phone manufacturing subsidiary Motorola Mobility.

Fujifilm filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, and says it first notified Motorola in April 2011.

The four patents cover converting color images to monochrome; devices communicating over non-telephone networks; facial detection; and low-resolution display of high-resolution images.
More information is in this Cnet report.




Google shares photos, sells tablet, demoes glasses

It was a busy week for Google at it’s I/O developer conference, with many announcements that included its own Android-based tablet, all capped off with parachuters descending on the San Francisco conference center while wearing prototype augmented reality glasses that captured video all the way down.

On the imaging front, the company enhanced the photo sharing features of its Google + social service with a new “Party Mode.”

“Photos are the cornerstone of any great event,” the company says. “They get people laughing and smiling, and they let us relive our favorite moments after the fact. The challenge—especially with the explosion in smartphones—is that too many photos get stranded in too many places. We struggle to even find people’s photos, let alone enjoy them all in one spot.”

The Party Mode feature “fixes these problems with a single tap.” For users of the service who have received an event invitation, “new photos are added to the event in real-time. And as more guests turn on Party Mode, more pictures will instantly appear to fellow invitees. Once the guests go home… we bask in the afterglow of shared experience for as long as memory allows. With Google+ Events you can now relive the party whenever you want, with a captivating and comprehensive set of photos.”

The Google Nexus 7 tablet will be manufactured by ASUS, but sold directly by Google for $199 for 8GB of flash storage, or $249 for 16GB. The 7-inch display has a 1280×800 pixel resolution. It lacks a main multi-megapixel camera, and will have only a 1.2-megapixel front-facing one suitable for video chat. “And best of all, it’s only 340 grams, lighter than most tablets out there,” Google adds.

The Glass wearable internet glasses are always-on cameras and AR displays. A beta version is now available for $1,500. Members of the Project Glass team stressed they’ve taken pains to ensure the technology doesn’t disrupt people by, among other things, limiting the number and type of messages that pop up.

On Friday, the company launched new “Glass Sessions” where potential users can “experience what it’s like to use Glass while we build it, through the eyes of a real person, in real life.” The first Glass Session follows a new mother “as she shares her story of welcoming a new baby, capturing every smile, and showing her entire family back in France every ‘first’,” Google says.

The parachuting product launch can be seen here.



Google Patents Project Glass

Google patented the design of its Project Glass augmented reality eyewear, previously covered here, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The patents for “wearable display device frame” were filed in October, Engadget reports.

The glasses will stream information, and display it as needed on the lenses, overlaying the user’s real-time view of the real world. A built-in camera will capture stills and video.

Our previous coverage is here.


Google uses your photos on 3D StreetView tours

Google’s StreetView maps now offer 3D photo tours of famous landmarks — tours made with user-supplied photos.

To produce the photo tours, Google says it used computer vision techniques “to create a 3D experience from public, user-contributed Picasa and Panaromio photos. We start by finding clusters of overlapping photos around major landmarks. From the photos, our system derives the 3D shape of each landmark and computes the location and orientation of each photo. Google Maps then selects a path through the best images, and adds 3D transitions to seamlessly guide you from photo to photo as if you’re literally flying around the landmark and viewing it from different perspectives.”

The new technique can beat being there, the company adds — or at least, beat your own vacation photos. “Every year, millions of people pack their bags and head to far-off places to enjoy sites and cultures different from their own,” Google says. “While there, they snap photos to document their trip and share their excursions online. Yet none of these individual photos captures the experience of actually being immersed in a specific location.”

While photos used are designated “public” by their contributors, “every photo is attributed to its contributor,” Google says, “and the more photos people share, the better the tours get.”

[You must enable WebGL in your web browser for the tours to work.]

The photo tours are here.


Google’s “Project Glass” goggles are wearable AR

Google’s Project Glass” attempts to take augmented reality off the smartphone and put it into a pair of glasses that will overlay information and graphics atop the wearer’s real-time view of the real world.

“We think technology should work for you,” the developers say, “to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don’t.” The system “helps you explore and share your world, putting you back in the moment.”

The project posted a video here showing what the technology may do.


Aviary enhances images on Flickr

Image editing technology developer Aviary partnered with the online site Flickr, “which brings our photo editing platform to a vibrant and bustling photo community” of 75 million users who upload 3.5 million photos per day, the company says. “Our editor will help enrich the experience of sharing memories for photographers and viewers alike, providing new, visual ways to engage with images hosted on the site.”

Aviary’s photo editing system is built on HTML5. Flickr is using it to replace Picnik, the imaging service which Google acquired and recently shut down.



Google offers businesses “Trusted Photographers”

Last year Google officered “Street Views” of indoor businesses: click in a web browser to see inside a stores or restaurant. Now the company is connecting businesses with pro shooters who can make the 360-degree images for them.

When it first announced the Business Photos pilot program, “we wanted to give business owners an easy way to get customers in the door online using interactive, high-quality, 360-degree images,” Google says. “With thousands of businesses under our belt — from salons to gift shops — we’ve been hearing the same question again and again from both business owners and photographers alike: How can I participate? Well, with the overwhelming success of the first pilot, we’ve decided to unveil a complementary initiative that will help us reach more interested business owners, more quickly.”

The “Trusted Photographers” program lets anyone use phone or email to set up a photo shoot. “This self-serve model makes for easier scheduling and quicker turnaround, while also supporting the local photographers in your community,” Google says. The photographer will upload the images, “and shortly thereafter, you’ll see 360-degree panoramic views of your business on, Google Maps, and your Google Places listing.”

“Trusted Photographers” are now available in 14 cities. “Don’t see a photographer in your area?” Google asks. “Let us know, as that will help us determine where more Trusted Photographers are needed.”



Google improves image stitching on its Earth

Google says its “taking bird’s eye view to a whole new level” with the latest edition of its Google Earth world viewer.

Version 6.2 is “the most beautiful yet,” the company says, “with more seamless imagery and a new search interface.” The Google Earth globe is made from a mosaic of satellite and aerial photographs taken on different dates and under different lighting and weather conditions. Because of this variance, Google says, views of the Earth from high altitude can sometimes appear patchy.

A new way of rendering imagery “smoothes out this quilt of images,” the company says. “The end result is a beautiful new Earth-viewing experience that preserves the unique textures of the world’s most defining geographic landscapes—without the quilt effect.”

The update also adds the option to share a screenshot of your current view in Google Earth through Google+, as well as images of the places you’ve virtually traveled to with your Circles, such as family, friends or your local hiking club.




Google+ finds faces

The Google+ social network now features automatic face recognition in its photo app.

Tagging photos can be a lot of work, Google says, “so today we’re launching Find My Face, an easier way to tag photos of yourself and your friends.”

Google+ will “prompt people you know to tag your face when it appears in photos,” the company adds.

The ‘Find My Face’ feature has to be enabled by the user — unlike Facebook’s otherwise-similar semi-automated facial tagging, which is active by default.  Google says “Of course, you have control over which tags you accept or reject, and you can turn the feature on or off in Google+ settings.”

Google purchased facial-recognition developer Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition earlier this year, and added facial-recognition to its Picasa photo service in 2008.


Google, Samsung intro latest Android camera phone

Samsung Electronics and Google announced the Galaxy Nexus,  the first smartphone running Android v4 — and with the new Face Unlock function  that uses facial recognition to unlock the phone.





The Galaxy Nexus has a redesigned camera with panorama mode, 1080p video capture, zero-shutter lag, and effects like silly faces and background replacement, the companies say. It has a standard 5 megapixel main camera resolution, however, and a 1.3MP rear cam for video calls.

It also provides a new People app, which lets you, browse friends, family, and coworkers, see their photos in high-resolution, and check their latest status updates from social networks.

The Nexus features a 4.65-inch Super AMOLED display with “HD” resolution at 1280 by 720, and a 1.2GHz dual core processor.

Android has a redesigned user interface with improved multi-tasking, notifications, Wi-Fi hotspot, NFC support, and a full web browsing experience, Google says. “The lock screen, home screen, phone app, and everything in between has been rethought and redesigned to make Android simple, beautiful, and useful.”

The phone will be available in the U.S., Europe, and Asia in November.

More information is here and here.


Google Earth downloaded more than one billion times

Google Earth — the desktop client, mobile apps and plug-ins that let you “explore the world in seconds, from Earth to Mars to the ocean floor” —has been downloaded more than one billion times since it was first introduced in 2005, Google says.

In light of the impressive tally, the company launched  OneWorldManyStories, where it has “collected stories from people all over the world who use Google Earth to follow their dreams, discover new and distant places, or make the world a better place.”

One example: a professor who viewed the satellite imagery to “scan thousands of square kilometers in Saudi Arabia and Jordan… and discover ancient tombs and geoglyphs dating back at least 2,000 years, all without leaving his desk.”

The program was first developed by Keyhole in 2001, which was acquired by Google in 2004.

More information is here.


Google adds auto-recognize to Goggles Android App

“Your smartphone camera is now smarter,” Google says. The new version of Goggles for Android phone lets you opt-in to “simply photograph an image using your phone’s camera, and Goggles will work in the background to analyze your image. If your photo contains items that Goggles can recognize, the app will notify you.”

Photos you take with your phone’s camera will only be seen by Goggles if you enable the Search from Camera feature.

How will it work? “Let’s say that I’m going on vacation, and I decide to use my Android-powered phone as my primary camera,” says the company. “Goggles would identify landmarks, paintings and other interesting objects in my photos. I can share these facts about my vacation with my friends right from my Goggles search history.”

Google Goggles 1.6 is available for Android 2.1 and newer devices.

More information is here.


Patent protection: Google to acquire Motorola Mobility

Google will reportedly control more than 17,000 patents once it acquires Motorola Mobility — the half of the communications pioneer with the mobile phone IP.

Motorola Mobility spun off as an independent company in January this year. Google says it will run Motorola Mobility as a separate business; Motorola Mobility will remain a licensee of Android; and Android will remain open.

In recent weeks, Google complained Apple, Microsoft, and others were unfairly attempting to wield their mobile patents against its Android operating system, which Google provides free to hardware makers such as HTC and Samsung. Pundits noted that Google’s lack of patents in the area made it vulnerable, even before a consortium that included Apple and Microsoft purchased the mobile IP developed by Nortel.

This week Google announced it’s offering $40 per share in cash, about $12.5 billion, for Motorola Mobility. The transaction was unanimously approved by the boards of directors of both companies.

“We recently explained how companies including Microsoft and Apple are banding together in anti-competitive patent attacks on Android,” says CEO Larry Page. “Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies.”

If Google maintains Motorola’s smart phone hardware business, the search and software giant is entering an entirely new arena — one in which it is squarely competing with its Android partners such as HTC and Samsung.

We would hope that rather than only compete with more me-too phones, Google also innovates in outlying areas than its more broadly aimed competitors can — such as camera phones that emphasize the camera. After all, most cameras sold today are phones, and most smart phones now sold are Android devices. Photography is one area in which Google could distinguish its Android models from those of its licensees.


Android launched in November 2007, and more than 150 million Android devices from 39 manufacturers have been activated worldwide, Google says.

Motorola introduced the world’s first portable cell phone nearly 30 years ago, and in 2008, chose Android as the sole operating system for its smartphones. “Their mobile business is poised for explosive growth,” Page concludes.


Google’s announcement is here.


Finding faces: Google acquires Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition

Facial recognition developer Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition has been acquired by Google, the research firm announced, where it will “continue to tap the potential of computer vision in applications that range from simple photo organization to complex video and mobile applications.”

“PittPatt” is an offshoot from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. “We’ve seen our technology come to life in some very interesting products,” the firm says. “At Google, computer vision technology is already at the core of many existing products, so it’s a natural fit to bring the benefits of our research and technology to a wider audience.”


[Our interview with the company founder is in the August 2009 issue of The 6Sight Report.]


Google+ “Real-life sharing” and social imaging

With its new Google+ collection of services, the search giant is fully facing off against its most successful  online competitor: Facebook.

As Facebook is now the top site for picture uploads and sharing — and as social imaging changes how and why we take photos — this battle bears watching by the photography industry.

“Among the most basic of human needs is the need to connect with others,” Google says in its blog post announcing the project. “With a smile, a laugh, a whisper or a cheer, we connect with others every single day. Today, the connections between people increasingly happen online. Yet the subtlety and substance of real-world interactions are lost in the rigidness of our online tools. In this basic, human way, online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it.”Although Google lists it last, we’ll note first here its “Instant Upload” feature. “Getting photos off your phone is a huge pain,” the company says, “so most of us don't even bother. Of course pictures are meant to be shared, not stranded, so we created Instant Upload to help you never leave a photo behind. While you're snapping pictures, and with your permission, Google+ adds your photos to a private album in the cloud. This way they're always available across your devices—ready to share as you see fit.”That sounds great. It also sounds exactly like the update for the iPhone Apple announced three weeks ago. To be fair, of course, Google has been reportedly working on this project for years.Google’s video about Instant Upload is here.


The main pages reportedly also have a photo tab that displays all the photos you’ve shared or are tagged in, as well as on-site image editing tools.

“Circles” is at the center of the project, and is most like Facebook’s main News Feed. Here users can “share what matters, with the people who matter most,” Google says. “Today’s online services turn friendship into fast food — wrapping everyone in “friend” paper — and sharing really suffers. It’s sloppy: We only want to connect with certain people at certain times, but online we hear from everyone all the time. It’s scary: Every online conversation (with over 100 “friends”) is a public performance, so we often share less because of stage fright. It’s insensitive: We all define “friend” and “family” differently—in our own way, on our own terms—but we lose this nuance online.”

How to address those shortcomings? For the answer, Google says it didn’t have to search far — no pun likely intended. “People in fact share selectively all the time—with their circles. From close family to foodies, we found that people already use real-life circles to express themselves, and to share with precisely the right folks. So we did the only thing that made sense: we brought Circles to software. Just make a circle, add your people, and share what’s new.”

Sounds great — and it sounds like Facebook’s lists and groups, with a different name and an easier drag-and-drop interface. Trouble is, Facebook has found, and publicly noted, that its members just don’t use lists, and lack of drag-and-drop is not the likely reason why.


Next: an online sharing engine called Sparks delivers “a feed of highly contagious content from across the Internet. Simply add your interests, and you’ll always have something to watch, read and share — with just the right circle of friends.”

Also: “Hangouts,” virtual pubs or front porches. “By combining the casual meet up with live multi-person video,” Google says, “Hangouts lets you stop by when you’re free, and spend time with your Circles.”


Google+ is currently in an invite-only test mode. It will be available on Android Market, the mobile web, and the iOS App Store.

Google’s blog post is here:

More information is here.


Google searches via image recognition

Web Search leader Google added a significant new way to find something online: instead of typing in text, just drag a photo into the search box, “and ask Google to figure out what it is,” the company says.

With “Search by Image,” Google says, “you can explore the web in an entirely new way by beginning your search with an image.”

The technique brings technology from its mobile operations to desktop search. “Searching with speech recognition started first on mobile, and so did searching with computer vision,” Google says. Its Google Goggles mobile app “has enabled you to search by snapping a photo on your mobile phone since 2009, and today we’re introducing Search by Image on the desktop.”

Google advises the method may work better in many circumstances: “Try it out when digging through old vacation photos and trying to identify landmarks—the search [mountain path] probably isn’t going to tell you where you were, but computer vision may just do the trick.”

Users can drag and drop an image from the web or their computer, upload an image through a dialog box, or copy and paste the URL for an image.


More information is here.



Google sorts Images by subject

“When you’re searching for images,” Google says, “sometimes it can be hard to come up with exactly the right words to describe what you have in mind.”

To address this dilemma, the company has changed the way it presents found photos: by default you’ll see image results ranked by relevance. Click on “Sort by subject” in the left-hand panel and you’ll see images organized into categories that will narrow down your search and help you find the exact image you want.

Sorting by subject shows the most popular images associated with the topic, Google says. This organized view helps you find the images you were visualizing more quickly. You can also use this feature to explore categories of a general topic that may be easier to learn about visually, like flower varieties or dog breeds.

Sorting by subject uses algorithms that identify relationships among images found on the web and presents those images in visual groups, expanding on the technology developed for Google Similar Images and Google Image Swirl. “By looking at multiple sources of similarities, such as pixel values and semantic relationships, and by mining massive amounts of data, we can make meaningful connections and groupings among images,” Google says.



Apple iOS outreaches Android by 59 Percent in U.S.

While Android phones are outnumbering iPhones these days, research firm comScore reports Apple’s iOS platform, on iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches — all of which now sport cameras — has a combined platform reach of 37.9 million among all mobile phones, tablets and other such connected media devices, outreaching the Android platform by 59 percent.

The combined 37.9 million iOS users is 59 percent greater than the 23.8 million combined Android OS installed base, which includes users of both Android phones and connected media devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

comScore says its analysis of the unduplicated audience reach of the Apple iOS platform across iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches shows only 4 million (10.5 percent) of the iOS users accessed the platform via more than one device.

comScore’s full report looks at user demographics.



Google acquire Green Parrot Pictures to boost video quality on YouTube.

Google acquired six-year-old Irish startup Green Parrot Pictures, a developer of video stabilization and enhancement tools.

YouTube, Google’s video service,  says it now “sees 35 hours of video uploaded to the site every minute from people all over the world,” and while “some videos are beautifully shot by professionals or aspiring filmmakers using the very latest in HD cameras and equipment,” others are “shot using low-quality mobile phones and video cameras.”

The Green Parrot technology can sharpen images, reduce visual noise, and render higher-quality, steadier video, Google says. The “cutting-edge video quality improvement technology has been used in major studio productions from Lord of the Rings to X-Men to Spider-Man. Their technology helps make videos look better while at the same time using less bandwidth and improving playback speed.”

Examples are here.





Google showcases Street View

Google updated its Street View site with “highlights from around the world in a gallery that lets you see ski slopes, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and breathtaking places on all seven continents,” the company says.

The Street View feature on Google Maps features close-up views of streets, buildings, cars and people across the globe, and, Google says, “we’ve been able to visit some beautiful and historic places around the world.”

The company adds that while it photographs most places with its camera-equipped Street View vehicles, “plenty of unique and interesting locations around the world aren’t accessible by car. To help us visit places with smaller paths or unpaved terrain, we’ve developed the Trike, Snowmobile and Trolley, which have enabled us to share parks, ski trails, and even museums with you in Street View.