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Apple’s latest startup purchase hints at the next big leap in iPhone photography

Apple’s latest startup purchase hints at the next big leap in iPhone photography


Photos improved by infrared might be on the way

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Illustration featuring a pattern of Apple logos
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Apple has acquired Spectral Edge, a UK-based startup whose technology could be used to improve photos taken on iPhones, according to filings made public on Thursday and reported by Bloomberg.

Spectral Edge was spun out from research done the University of East Anglia, and it has developed computational photography tech that could blend data from a standard lens and an infrared lens to enhance photo quality.

You can see the tech at work below — here’s what looks to be a photo taken with a standard camera compared to one improved by Spectral Edge’s technology (from this 2016 TechCrunch article). You can see that the colors are much richer in the second photo:

Image: Spectral Edge

With the continued mobile phone arms race to see who can make the better camera, it’s easy to see why Apple wanted to buy a company with tech that can improve photos this dramatically. However, it’s not clear if Apple will be putting this infrared tech to work in an upcoming iPhone, and you can’t buy an iPhone with an infrared camera... yet.

There’s always the chance a future iPhone could have one. But sometimes, Apple acquires companies just for the talent, and perhaps Apple has put the Spectral Edge team to work on some other photo-enhancing project. The company rarely (actually, almost never) explains why it acquires smaller companies, and the eventual results of such deals can sometimes take years to manifest.

It’s unclear how much Apple paid for Spectral Edge, but the company raised $5.3 million in a funding round last year, so it was likely on the smaller side. And honestly, there are probably a lot of other Spectral Edge-sized companies that have joined Apple that we’ve never heard of — CEO Tim Cook told CNBC in May that it buys a company every two to three weeks on average.