Apple Has a Way to Take Group Selfies While Social Distancing

woman taking selfie with iPhone 11 Pro Credit: Kicking Studio / Shutterstock
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Every so often we see an patent from Apple that seems eerily prescient, and no more has this been true than one of Apple’s patents that was recently granted for taking “synthetic group selfies” — basically a way to put several people together in a selfie photo even when they’re actually nowhere near each other.

If this seems like a great response to the social distancing happening as a result of the ongoing global pandemic, you’d be right, but the scary thing is that Apple actually filed this patent application almost two years ago, back in Q3 2018. It just so happens that it wasn’t approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office until last week.

The details are outlined by Patently Apple, which was the first to come across the granted patent, and while it naturally doesn’t make any specific references to “social distancing” it seems clear that the solution is an ideal one for times like these.

‘Synthetic Selfies’

Essentially, the patent covers a method for creating a “synthetic” or contrived group selfie by allowing users to contribute photos from their individual iPhones — wherever they happen to be — and then composing them into a single image.

At its most basic level, the idea would be to simply allow a group of people standing together to take individual selfies with their own iPhones, helping to overcome the challenges of trying to frame multiple people within the field of view of the camera when your arms just don’t quite reach far enough and you don’t have a selfie stick handy.

Instead, the synthetic selfie would allow you and each of your friends to hold up your own iPhones, take individual selfies, and then merge them into a single photo. In this scenario, common background information would be used to automatically place all of the individuals appropriately within the photo.

Selfies at a Distance

The language of the patent, however, suggests that it would be just as easy to have users take selfies from completely different locations, and then automatically put them together into a single composite image.

It’s a bit less clear how things like backgrounds would be handled in this case. One person’s background could be used as the primary, or a virtual background could be used much like we’ve already seen in Apple’s Clips app.

The proposed solution would work by having one person initiate the request to create a synthetic group selfie and then invite other friends to participate, and the user who is “hosting” the group selfie would have the ability to modify the arrangement of the individual photos, and also presumably tweak things like background settings.

The patent also describes how the processing of individual selfie images could be distributed among all of the devices participating in the group to reduce the load on an individual device. Further, the resulting synthetic group selfie would be stored as a “multi-resource object” — essentially with layers — so that it could be edited later as well.

Even more interesting is that Apple is proposing that this go beyond simple still images, suggesting that it could also be used with stored video images or even live streaming images, potentially allowing users to record videos of themselves together all in once place even when physically apart.

Of course, the usual set of disclaimers apply here when it comes to Apple patents: Just because Apple has filed a patent for something doesn’t tell us anybody about when it will actually make it into a product, or even if it ever will. Apple patents hundreds of different ideas, and beyond this patent we’ve had no evidence that Apple is activated working on this, although it would certainly be timely to see it appear in iOS 14 when Apple debuts it later this month.

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