Microsoft Pix was released last year with a goal of improving on the native iPhone camera experience, but it just wouldn’t be a Microsoft project without a business productivity use.
Today Microsoft updated the artificial intelligence-backed iOS app to take better photos of documents, whiteboards and business cards. The app is able to see these documents and automatically focuses the camera on them. Once the photo is taken, the AI can crop edges, adjust color and tone and even change the angle of the document so that the picture is always straight on.
Users requested these new features, and Microsoft’s own data showed that a lot of people are using the app for document sharing. These new capabilities complement Microsoft Lens, which the company says is the best program for photographing whiteboards and other documents. The Pix updates are designed to help the program anticipate what users want out of their photos, including everything from document scanning to portraits.
“In this case, we get you a much better photo of a whiteboard without any effort on your part,” said Josh Weisberg, a principal program manager in the Computational Photography Group within Microsoft’s research group. “In the future, we will continue to improve Pix’s AI capabilities to work on your behalf and save you time and give you better results.”
Originally, the app focused on people, with the AI able to recognize faces and sense when a subject has his or her eyes closed. Pix adjusts settings automatically to compose the best possible shot, meaning users don’t have to toggle through various modes.
Pix came out of the Microsoft Research division, and is the latest example of a movement to focus more on getting projects out of the labs and into the market. Previously, the division focused more on basic research, but that has shifted under CEO Satya Nadella. The risk with the new approach is that researchers could become too focused on money-making projects instead of ambitious ideas that could pay off years down the road. But Microsoft’s new model is more in line with the approach taken by Facebook and Google, and it has helped lead to the creation of new futuristic products like Skype Translator and the HoloLens.