After a turbulent 2020, we take a look at what developments we expect in the imaging industry over the course of the next 12 months

The effects of this year will continue to be felt as we head into 2021 – but it pays to be optimistic. Technology has, after all, allowed many of us to adapt and work from home, and businesses will no doubt continue to innovate and bring new products to market, even if obstacles remain.

So what does 2021 look like for the imaging industry? Here’s what we expect.

AI tools will continue to be the focus for software and apps

Software and app developers have been liberally using the AI label these past few years, promising intelligent and time-saving tools for editing images on cameras and smartphones.

And there seems to be little reason to assume this will change in 2021. Just in these past few months alone, we’ve had AI-related software announcements from Adobe, Microsoft and Kodak, in addition to a smattering of developments from smaller players such as Skylum and DxO.

Unsurprisingly, Google has also had a couple of interesting AI-related announcements of its own in recent months. In August, researchers at Google Research and the University of California, Berkeley published a paper that showed how AI could be used to remove shadows from subject’s faces, a task that can be particularly difficult to carry out manually using conventional software.

More recently, it used its AI Blog to explain the technology behind its clever Portrait Light feature, which was released earlier this year for its Google Photos app and Pixel smartphones. This, the company explained, adds a simulated directional light source to portraits to complement the lighting from an original photograph, with the user able to control its direction and intensity. The way in which it was developed – using the Light Stage computational illumination system that’s shown in the video above – is particularly interesting.

More podcasts – and better data

With the COVID-19 pandemic still casting doubts on physical events in the near term – and trade shows such as Photokina, CP+ and WPPI either suspended, canceled or postponed – many companies will continue with a digital-first approach for their marketing strategies, both to reach new audiences and to continue engaging with existing ones. 

Webinars have been an understandably popular medium for many companies this year, and these will no doubt continue, although the podcasting arena also looks set to expand. Indeed, it’s big business already; Deloitte had previously predicted that the market would be worth $1.1 billion this year, and expects that it may be worth in excess of $3.3bn by 2025. 

As it is, there’s no shortage of podcasts around photography, online security and related topics, and while we can’t envisage the bigger imaging brands getting involved here, we certainly expect smaller companies to build their own niches. 

While webinars and podcasts may not be ideal marketing tools for every business, they do present something of a golden opportunity: fresh audience data. Those who are able to gather the right kind of information from these will no doubt better understand their existing audience, and potentially find it useful in shaping future marketing activities. 

Content Authenticity Initiative will gain prominence

The Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI), which describes the ongoing development of an industry-standard content attribution system, was announced over a year ago, but it was only in August of this year that we had a real sense of what the initial proposals would look like in reality by way of a white paper.

This was bolstered earlier this month when developers released the first real-world examples of images that had adhered to the CAI process from start to finish. This also underlined the involvement of Truepic and Qualcomm, two partners involved in the initiative.

In the new year, we expect to see other companies playing a more significant role in the initiative, as well as the adoption of the eventual standards by a major news organization. Given its involvement from the start, The New York Times would be the most likely of these, and social media platforms will no doubt follow before long too.

Smartwatch/camera hybrids start to become mainstream

The idea of fusing cameras with wearables isn’t a new one, although many previous attempts have ended up seeming like false starts for a greater move.

Google’s Google Glass project, for example, never got off the ground commercially, and has since evolved into a business-only solution, while Snapchat’s Spectacles may be in its third generation, but have failed to attract much attention.

Smartwatches, however, are undoubtedly set to stay, so it seems only a matter of time before their manufacturers start squeezing cameras of some description inside them as standard. Indeed, it’s possible to buy such hybrid offerings now, but only from obscure brands, rather than the more dominant players such as Apple and Samsung.

A quick search online reveals just how vocal Apple fans are for such a move, with a patent spotted last year suggesting that they may not have long to wait. Right now, anyone wanting this with their Apple Watch can opt for the separate Wristcam device (above), but the convenience of an integrated unit will no doubt sway one of the big names into making this standard before long.

Samsung’s super-high-resolution sensor surfaces

Earlier this year, Samsung mentioned it was exploring the idea of developing a 600MP sensor, stating that it was “determined to open up endless possibilities in pixel technologies that might even deliver image sensors that can capture more detail than the human eye.” 

Whether or not such a sensor materializes inside a smartphone remains a mystery, particularly as Samsung cited applications such as autonomous vehicles, IoT and drones in its previous press release discussing these plans.

Then again, high-resolution sensors of this sort have many advantages for image and video quality, which smartphone users would no doubt appreciate. The extra resolution can be traded off to help balance noise levels and mimick optical zooms, for example, and can also help to meet the increasing demands of 8K video capture. So the inclusion of such a sensor inside a flagship handset could be key to raising the standard for smartphone photography.

Face recognition will become more accurate – and more problematic

Tools based on artificial intelligence are used more widely than many of us appreciate, but at least where facial recognition is concerned, the algorithms don’t always get things right.

Cameras with face detection, for example, have been detecting eyes and noses in inanimate objects for some time, while reports of facial-recognition systems inside smartphones being fooled by unregistered faces have dogged a number of previous handsets. Twitter’s facial recognition technology has even been accused of having a racial bias.

A recent report estimated that the facial recognition market as a whole should grow from $3.8 billion to $8.5 billion by 2025, so we expect companies to make significant efforts to make their technologies faster and more accurate. Google has even resorted to crowdsourcing in the past to help boost the accuracy of its own facial recognition technology.

Any new developments, however, will no doubt continue to be accompanied by concerns over privacy and ethics, together with legal cases, all of which have led to various city-wide bans in the US over the past few years.



Related articles