The most popular and memorable app of this year will inevitably be Pokémon Go, but the title of the best app might very well go to another summer newcomer: Prisma. The product of a small team in Moscow, Prisma lets you apply a variety of art filters to your pictures and then share them via Instagram, Facebook, or wherever else you wish to show off. That sounds like an utterly unremarkable premise, but the difference is in how good the app is. Prisma takes what you could do with Instagram's rudimentary filters and completely revolutionizing it. Hell, you could even argue that Prisma doesn't apply filters, as it redraws and fundamentally alters your images to make them truly appear like art.
Anyone who's dabbled with Photoshop will know about its Filter submenu. It's one of the most immediately accessible parts of the world's best photo-editing app, and it transforms pictures almost instantly with practically no work or skill required by the artist. Those filters were around long before Instagram arrived on the scene, setting a sort of template for what was to come. Instagram's trick was to create subtler overlays than Photoshop — which could completely obliterate a photo with its most extreme settings — and to focus on the most essential and eye-pleasing enhancements (more contrast and saturation are to photos as more bass is to music). Both Photoshop and Instagram, however, suffer from being obvious overlays that are easily recognizable when the manipulated photos are shared. Art isn't supposed to be a one-click or one-tap affair, and it certainly isn't supposed to be repetitive.
Well, Prisma isn't doing anything to change the simplicity of its predecessors, however it's gone a long way toward eradicating the issue of predictability and uniformity. The way it does this is with the help of neural network processing — the same stuff that helps Google's Deep Dream algorithms detect objects in scenes and generate nightmarish impossible terrors — which intelligently manipulates your image to turn it into an artwork of a particular predetermined style. Edvard Munch's The Scream, Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke, and Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa are just a few of the dozens of signature looks that you can apply to your photo. Again, this sounds like the stuff of cheap gimmicks, but the difference is simply one of quality. Prisma does a conversion and a transformation that truly alters a picture, generating a distinct and refreshingly new creation every time.
Like Pokémon Go, Prisma has been an instant hit with users, which has overwhelmed its makers' servers and led to protracted processing times and even moments where the service is unavailable. The app connects to the internet for its AI-assisted processing, and so it's a tiny touch more laborious than a straightforward Instagram filter and upload — though the results it produces are so good that none of that matters. You can process and publish half a dozen Prisma images in the typical Pokémon Go downtime, anyway.
@chriswelch i thought so too at first, but have you used it? it's pretty nuts— sam byford (@345triangle) July 18, 2016
Prisma's already an amazing photo tool, but it's being constantly expanded with more filters and styles, and there are plans afoot to make it work on video, too. It has some limitations, such as the 1080 x 1080 square output, the aforementioned processing delays, and a general tendency to work better with simpler compositions. Most of all, it's not yet out on Android, which will be the biggest hurdle to a vast swathe of mobile users. But still, if you're on iOS and you're curious to try one of the most astonishingly good new apps in a long time, you owe it to yourself to give Prisma a shot.