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Microsoft is out with a pair of updates to its AI-powered photo app Pix for iOS to let users take bigger, wider photos and turn videos into comic strips.

Photosynth, previously a standalone app for making 3D panoramas before it was decommissioned earlier this year, has resurfaced within Pix. It allows users to take more comprehensive panorama shots, rotating the phone in all directions — up, down, side-to-side, diagonally — rather than just side to side.

Photosynth allows more options for panorama shots. (Microsoft Photo)

Josh Weisberg, principal program manager within Microsoft’s AI & Research group said in a blog post that the idea to add Photosynth to Pix came to him as he was trying to take photos at Snoqualmie Falls, a major attraction just a few miles from Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash. headquarters.

“I didn’t want to have to choose which part of the scene to capture, and I wanted it all with detail,” Weisberg said. “Photosynth means you no longer have to choose. I can now capture the whole scene in a way that feels natural.”

The other new feature, Pix Comix, combs through videos and picks out the best moments and turns them into comic strips. Developed at Microsoft’s OneWeek Hackathon, Pix Comix uses deep learning to identify three high-quality frames in a video, by looking for things like faces with eyes wide open, interesting scenes and non-blurry moments.

Pix Comix creates comic strips from videos. (Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft released Pix last year. The app seeks to improve upon the native iPhone camera experience, and it originally focused on photos of people, using AI to remove common smartphone camera issues like blurry or backlit shots and stabilize photos.

Microsoft has steadily added new features to Pix, including an update in September to take better photos of documents, whiteboards and business cards.

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.

Pix is also an example of Microsoft’s new mobile approach. After axing its own line of smartphones, Microsoft has worked to optimize signature offerings like Outlook and Bing to include better integration with other apps and operating systems and improve on native phone elements like the camera and keyboard.

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