As the year comes to a close, it is an excellent time to review the emerging visual tech trends ( and failures) and predict those that will have a significant impact in 2019 and beyond.  Without further notice and in no particular order, here they are:

Eyes in your house :

There is a race, right now, to get cameras in your homes.  Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant voice search are getting eyes, to serve you better. As they insert more deeply into our lives, they are also gaining extended ability to analyze what we do.  Google offers a screened ( and camera-equipped) version of its Google home, Amazon delivers the visual Echo and Facebook, its Portal. Apple still lags with its Homepod, but we expect not for long. The reason? Voice search is only limited to active engagement. With a camera ( and image recognition),  home assistants can understand what you do, even when you are not interacting with them. They can see what you wear, what you eat, drink, carry, who is in your home, who you call, what kind of pets you have, and so on.

The Facebook Portal has eyes in your house
The Facebook Portal has eyes in your house

It is a treasure trove of information that can be used to serve you better. Like, offer to replace those old jeans your wearing,  water the plants that look like they need it or suggest a new toy for that pet of yours. And while it certainly can make life easier, the downside is a complete loss of privacy. Facebook and Google already know quite well what you do online, getting much better at understanding what you do when you are out and about ( thanks to our cell phones), but very little when you are at home and disconnected. Not anymore. With eyes and ears, the last barrier of private knowledge is broken.

Who owns your images?

The Google Clip, an A.I powered fully autonomous home camera, doesn’t need human to operate. Precisely the type of issue raised by the famous monkey selfie copyright case. In December 2014, the United States Copyright Office stated that works created by a non-human, such as a photograph taken by a monkey, are not copyrightable.  Meaning that all the images of your life shot by the Clip do not belong to Google, nor you. They are in the public domain. Thus anyone can do anything with pictures and videos taken in your most private moment without needing your authorization.

The Google Clip vs. The Monkey Selfie. Who owns your pictures and videos?
The Google Clip vs. The Monkey Selfie. Who owns your pictures and videos?

And while this could be limited to automated cameras, the issue could go much further. To make your photos better,  cell phones or DSLR manufacturers rely increasingly on built-in software to improve your shots. Those algorithms can alter your original image such that the end product could be considered their work, not yours.  Who owns the copyright? The user, who pushed the button, or the camera manufacturer who created the algorithm that made the image possible?

The social shopping mall:

While we are busy exchanging baby pictures or vacation selfies on our favorite social media platform, they are, in turn, busy in turning those images into storefronts. Instagram shopping, Snapchat’s partnership with Amazon, Pinterest shop the look already offer the possibility to shop directly from photographs. It will not be a surprise to see Facebook and Twitter follow suit. After all, we shop with our eyes first. The next step is inserting this into everyone’s daily images without interrupting their sense of community: Your favorite social media app will be the new shopping mall while your friends and family your new models/influencers.

You and your friends as storefront : Pinterest's shop the look
You and your friends as  a storefront: Pinterest’s shop the look
Photos format war and death:

The last few years have seen a plethora of new photos formats. From proprietary formats like circular images via Snaphat glasses or  Apple’s Live photos, to open formats like 360 or cinemagraphs. Yet, none seem to stick. It’s flat images everywhere, all the time. While our capture and viewing devices are getting more sophisticated capable of rendering images in a growing number of various forms, there is no dethroning of the rectangular, static, 2D image.

Where have you gone, Apple Live Photo ?
Where have you gone, Apple Live Photo?

While the force of habit is indeed in play here, it also seems that we will not consume photos in any other display than when it was originally invented. For a couple of reasons:

  • New formats require a different way of thinking about a picture. Content, framing, composition need to change to better fit the new format. It’s an exercise we are not willing to do, especially when we seek immediacy.
  • We don’t associate movement to an image. Cinemagraph, Apple’s 3D and even 360 degrees require that part or all the image move. That is counter to our deeply intuitive relationship with photos. Photos freeze time.

While we will undoubtedly continue to see new formats being offered by increasingly performant devices, none will replace our deep-rooted commitment to the static 2d image. At least, as long as they require us to rethink what a photograph is.

If stock photography is more your thing, you can read a year in review here.

Happy New Year!

Photo by Octavian Rosca on Unsplash


Author: Paul Melcher

Paul Melcher is a highly influential and visionary leader in visual tech, with 20+ years of experience in licensing, tech innovation, and entrepreneurship. He is the Managing Director of MelcherSystem and has held executive roles at Corbis, Stipple, and more. Melcher received a Digital Media Licensing Association Award and is a board member of Plus Coalition, Clippn, and Anthology, and has been named among the “100 most influential individuals in American photography”

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