Google's new AI-powered camera, Google Clips, seems to be targeted at parents of young children in its current form, but the idea itself has unique potential. Just set it up somewhere, then you'll never miss a moment trying to capture the moment — you'll have a robot photographer taking care of that stuff for you.
If this is the first you're hearing about Google Clips, it's one of those products that only Google could have made. Futuristic, a bit creepy when you think about it, and at least a little overpriced.
Clips is basically a GoPro with a clip on the back that can also serve as a stand. The unique part is how Google embedded its machine learning skills directly into the camera, so you don't actually take pictures with it. Instead, you just put Clips somewhere, then go about your day, and the AI will sit back like a voyeur until it sees the perfect shot, which it will then capture as a brief Motion Photo with ideal composition and a sort-of candid feel that you couldn't get anywhere else.
The AI magic happens entirely on-device, so you're not giving Google a peephole into your living room that it would surely use to hone its object recognition algorithms. But if Google isn't collecting any data from Clips, then where are they making money off this project, you might ask. Easy answer: From Clips' shocking $249 price tag, of course.
So there's plenty to like and plenty to dislike here — like I said, it's definitely a Google product. But as with many other Google projects, it has that "moonshot" feel to it — if only this tech were to find a perfect home, the whole concept of Clips might actually have a shot at succeeding and changing the way we do things.
Here's the thing, though. Google already has the perfect home for Clips: Its flagship Pixel smartphones, which are renown for their AI-powered innovations and class-leading cameras.
Imagine if the Pixel's camera had Clips AI built-in. You could just hold up your phone, and it would simply capture the best pictures it sees. No group photo where one person's eyes are closed, no rule of thirds grid in the viewfinder, just perfect shots automatically.
Let's daydream a little more about this Clips-Pixel pairing. When you don't have to tap your screen to use your phone's camera, it'll be a lot easier to hold — no positioning your thumb awkwardly over the shutter button. This would help you get a little creative in certain scenarios, not to mention save at least a few phones from being dropped.
Or you could use your Pixel more like the Clips camera — just place it somewhere and leave the camera running, then come back to see what it captured. What about those times when you're taking a big group picture? Set your phone down on the mantle and go get in the shot yourself.
Why stop at the rear camera? Throw Clips' AI in the selfie cam, then strike the perfect pose while staring nonchalantly away from the camera since you don't have to look at the screen.
I'm sure there are several more examples I'm not even thinking of yet, but it's easy to see how something like Clips would make even more sense on a smartphone.
But is the Pixel powerful enough to handle that on-device machine learning? Yes, yes it is. It has a Google-built image processor called the Pixel Visual Core, which already applies tons of AI tricks to the smartphone's camera. It certainly has enough power to recognize the framing of a shot in real time — just ask Eleven or BB-8 after you slap them down in three dimensions using the Pixel Camera's AR Stickers.
If not this year's Pixels, this should definitely be doable with the Pixel 3. Though it would be nice to see a software update to the Google Camera app and Google Photos so we could try this type of functionality on existing phones now.
As for the $249 price tag that will likely spell doom for Google Clips, the components that are making this thing expensive are already built into the Pixel's $649+ asking price, and people certainly don't seem to mind paying that much for a phone. Hell, maybe a feature like this would justify positioning the next Pixel against the iPhone X and its $1,000 price tag.
So Google, would you please press fast-forward on the Clips experiment and skip straight to your end-game with this one? We all see where this is going, we're just hoping you do too.