Google has announced plans to improve the cameras on its Pixel smartphones so that they better capture black and brown skin tones.
The company announced the move during its recent Google I/O annual developer conference. In a keynote address, Android VP Sameer Samat said the company is working with a diverse group of industry and imaging experts. These include leading photographers Micaiah Carter, Deun Ivory, and cinemaphotographer Kira Kelly.
Pictures taken by smartphones can vary when it comes to things such as color, white balance, and brightness. The quality of image is determined by the algorithms powering the camera sensor and image processor.
Because many algorithms are tuned for lighter skin, smartphone cameras can struggle to accurately capture people with darker skin tones. They can look washed out and unrepresentative of how others see them in real life.
“Black people are taught to make do with what we have in a world that doesn’t care to create things with us in mind and to be a part of Florian and the team’s vision of creating a more equitable camera for black skin is nothing short of revolutionary.”
Samat said the company is working with experts to tweak the algorithms and training data that power the Pixel camera in order to more accurately capture people of color. It’s expected that the improved camera will be available on the new Pixel 6, which will be out later this year.
“As a part of our ongoing commitment to product inclusion, we’re working to make technology more accessible and equitable,” said Annie Jean Baptiste, Head of Product Inclusion at Google, speaking to UrbanGeekz.
“To ensure our camera and imagery products work for everyone, we’ve partnered with industry experts to ensure that users of all skin tones feel accurately and beautifully seen. This is one step in an ongoing journey, and we look forward to sharing more on our progress later this year.”
“As an artist and servant-leader committed to creating a better world for black women, it brought me so much joy to work with Florian Koenigsberger and the Google team on a project that was specifically tailored to the needs of people who look like me, said Deun Ivory, creative director, photographer and designer.
“Black people are taught to make do with what we have in a world that doesn’t care to create things with us in mind and to be a part of Florian and the team’s vision of creating a more equitable camera for black skin is nothing short of revolutionary,” adds Ivory. “It’s such a thoughtful way to show black people that we matter and that we deserve to be seen in the most loving and authentic way possible. ” – Deun Ivory, creative director, photographer and designer
Yemi Williams, a UK-based technology writer and founder of theyemireview believes that the planned changes show that the company is a shrewd observer of market and social trends.
“It’s a very smart move by Google,” Williams said in an interview with UrbanGeekz. “In making sure that its cameras better capture people with darker complexions the company’s products will certainly have a strong chance of appealing to a more diverse audience. That’s very timely given the events of the past year following the death of George Floyd.
“There have been a lot of studies over the years that have highlighted the strength of black consumer spending power. Big companies like Google have long been aware of our buying power. That, however, hasn’t always meant that they have tried to ensure that their products appeal to diverse audiences.
“What’s different now is that we’re at a place where black communities, and the issues that are important to them, have much more of a social and political influence because of the worldwide reach of the Black Lives Matter protests.
“There are important conversations that are happening now” Williams continued. “Those conversations are still gathering momentum a year after George Floyd’s death. Businesses know it’s not in their favor to ignore that.”
“As a part of our ongoing commitment to product inclusion, we’re working to make technology more accessible and equitable. To ensure our camera and imagery products work for everyone, we’ve partnered with industry experts to ensure that users of all skin tones feel accurately and beautifully seen.”
Josh Wright, CEO of phone price comparison site cellphonedeal.com says it will be interesting to see how other big tech companies respond to Google’s move. “I do believe that we will see more of this inclusion of diversity into our tech as opposed to simply acknowledging the idea of it,” Wright told UrbanGeekz.
“A few tech companies have begun to revise and build their tech around diversity. One example is Microsoft who built the Adaptive Gaming Controller for customers who might have difficulty playing on a traditional controller.
“Frankly, it does seem silly to have your company announce that it is hiring people from all backgrounds to be more inclusive and diverse when the products you develop don’t share those same ideals” he continued. “I personally can’t wait to see the developments that come about from this movement in the tech sector.”