The 2015 year ends pretty much as it started. Some promises were delivered, some fell short. At least for now. With mobile continuing to dominate as the number one gateway to the online experience and visual being its strongest appeal, one would have thought that visual tech would have exploded by now. But not yet. At least not at full capacity.
While image advertising has taken a foothold on all major social media site, with Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest adding a “buy” button within photos, most of the effort has been peripheral. Companies like Snapchat, as those previously mentioned, have rather increased the visual experience, adding channels, slide shows or formats in order to increase time spent, rather than delivering stronger link baits. As if they were more interested in enhancing their platforms potential to deliver rather than actually delivering. Nevertheless, brands have been quick to adopt, as numbers on Instagram have demonstrated.
For 2016, we can expect experimentation to continue. Estimated at 4 Billion photographers creating 1.2 trillion images in 2015 alone, and with 63% of social media made of images, there is no slowing down users’ addiction to photography. Messaging apps like WhatsApp, with almost 500,000 photos shared every minute, have yet to enter the market, while others, like Flickr or Tumblr seem to have taken a back seat to innovation. Outside of the wall gardens, unfortunately, not much has happened. While in-image companies like Znaptag, GumGum or Netseer continue to develop their network, they seem to focus exclusively on fast, low CPM, automated, voluminous delivery, leaving user experience as an after thought. They might soon be facing the growing wrath of adblocking before they even have a chance to mature.
Visual recognition, as we expected, has also gone mainstream, as we close the year with Google famously opening its engine for free, to anyone with API experience. While still riddled with embarrassing false positive, the technology has appeared on Apple, Flickr and Google Photos as well as in myriads of photo or shopping phone apps. It’s just a beginning. For now, its applications are limited to auto-tagging, content matching and clustering of similar content. With rare exceptions.
For 2016, we should finally see some more semantic applications that would greatly enhance user’s experience. The next step of visual recognition is to start linking the discovery of content with relevant information so that photos ( or videos) become the stepping stone to more knowledge. By identifying objects in photos, our connected devices will be able to link them to any other relevant content. Like opening door. Pictures of Sushi seen on Facebook, for example, could
automatically link to nearby Sushi restaurant via Yelp. Locations could pull up maps and concert photos, iTunes songs. Facebook has already started experimenting with the concept by identifying friends in photos and suggesting you share those with them. But there is much more that can be done. With IoT getting traction, we will more and more interact visually with objects around us and they, in turn, will learn to read from visual cues only. Already doors can open just by using face recognition. Beyond voice commands, our appliances, using visual recognition, will automatically act upon identifying their surroundings.
We saw VR point its nose in 2015, mostly via gear and a few underwhelming content. Since novelty beats dullness, it served as a teaser for things to come. The big launch will happen around Oculus Rift‘s delivery of its glasses and anticipation is high. While there are obvious applications for the gaming world (expect all new platforms to carry it), as well as for real estate and tourism, there are still questions on how much it will be adopted elsewhere.
2016 will be the VR year. Not only in terms of launches but as well as usage. Lead by Facebook’s efforts, everything and everyone will have some VR aspect. Some will be exciting, most will be boring. The result, by years end, will decide if VR will be just another fad or a technology forever embedded in our everyday lives. The challenge for VR, in other words, is not in the hardware, but in the content. For it to succeed, it will need to find its “killer app” outside of the gaming world. Adding interactivity to the VR experience, where users can engage with what they are seeing, will certainly be a determining enhancement.
Which brings us to format. 2015 has seen a flurry of new photo formats introduced or expand. Animated Gif, while having been around for a long time, have gone mainstream. It’s on news websites, social media and in email marketing and shows no sign of slowing down. Cinemagraph , its more sophisticated version, is starting to gain traction, already gathering 71% higher organic reach than still photographs. A great tool for marketers, it has yet to gain mainstream traction mostly due to its more complex fabrication method. In between sits Apple Live photos, just recently introduced. While limited to iPhone users, it might gain widespread traction due to its native status in Facebook and ultimately in Instagram. As well, Google just recently launched Google Cardboard camera, allowing anyone to easily create VR photos and shared them.
2016 will certainly be the year of the new photo formats. From camera manufacturers to independent app producers along with major social media
platforms, everyone is experimenting in redefining what a photo is, and how it appears. Finally using the full potential of electronic publishing, photos are breaking out from their 2-D shell and expanding our relationship to them. Depth, movement, interactivity and sound are just a few of the attributes it is now adding to its previously flat and static appearance and we can expect a lot more to come. Easier to create, to share and more fun to consume, the new photo formats will overtake its ancestor in the years to come. Expect the year 2016 to be full of new experiments with some becoming standards in the near future.
Finally, a word on computational imaging. 2015 has been a breakout year where we saw research lab experiments surface. Some applications are starting to appear in mobile phone processors with much more on the way. Pretty soon, it will be impossible to take a bad picture. From reframing to focus correction, via automated pixel editing, our pictures will hardly look like those we initially took. Since all mobile manufacturers have put photo quality at the top of their features list, the results will only be limited to the chip’s power. While it will irritate photo purists, it will certainly be an extra boost to the photo taking/sharing frenzy.
2016 promises to be even more visual than 2015 and the technology surrounding it will continue to expand in a multitude of directions. With Millions of dollars being poured in research by companies like Samsung, Qualcomm, Apple, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Adobe and Facebook along with ingenious solutions discovered by enthusiastic startups, we can only expect the upcoming year to deliver even more visual tech innovations than previous years.
Author: Paul Melcher
Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur and Managing Director of Melcher System, a consultancy for visual technology firms. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo-based companies with already two successful exits.