Portable Computing UI Redux: Editing Photos While Walking Downtown

Posted Saturday, April 21st, 2012 at 11:50 am

One thing Instagram’s done for me (or to me): It’s made me much more prone to editing images on my phone. Which means I now have more data on the real-world equivalent of Charles Stross’ speculative incident in the beginning of Accelerando:

[Manfred is] standing in the plaza in front of the Centraal Station with his eyeballs [smart glasses that now seem like a prediction of Google Glasses] powered up…. The square smells of water and dirt and hot metal and the fart-laden exhaust fumes of cold catalytic converters; the bells of trams ding in the background, and birds flock overhead. He glances up and grabs a pigeon, crops the shot, and squirts it at his weblog to show he’s arrived. The bandwidth is good here, he realizes; and it’s not just the bandwidth, it’s the whole scene. (emphasis added)

I’ve written before about what the hell kind of UI he’s using to tell his systems to actually do all this stuff. One thing I noted was that, working on a modern smartphone, “Cropping is pretty much out of the question, although someone could write an app for it.” But that was two years ago, when I was using a Palm Pre… over 6 months before Instagram even launched their first product.

Fast-forward to this Monday. I was walking down Market Street and saw a statue that I felt like grabbing a picture of. I took the pic with my phone’s standard camera app. Then I decided, what the heck, why not post it on Instagram? When you import a photo from your Android Gallery into Instagram, it “gives you the opportunity” (i.e., forces you) to crop the image so it fits their 1:1 aspect ratio. While I was doing the cropping, I noticed: There was some text in there that was really kind of distracting. I wanted it out of there.

photo in 4-by-3 aspect ratio, with unwanted textHere’s a thumbnail of what it looked like in the beginning — the image my phone’s camera first recorded. Click it for a larger version.

The cropping I was planning to do already brought out the “cross” motif behind the angel a bit. But that meant that the “Asian Art” and “San Fr…” text on the right arm of the cross was really distracting.

On the other hand, note that at this point, if you consider Instagram to be a weblog, we’ve already pretty much fulfilled the parameters of what Manfred Macx did. (Or, we could have fulfilled them, if I’d gone ahead and cropped and posted.) Okay, there’s no way Instagram is my weblog… but it’s a public record, which would certainly “show I’d arrived” somewhere. If I had just landed in Amsterdam, I could snap a picture of the Begijnhof or the Magere Brug or some such, crop it, and post it on Instagram with a comment like “Amsterdam, I am in you!” Mission accomplished!

But I didn’t feel like posting my photo with that annoying text in it. I recently downloaded a few Android image-editing apps, including something with “retouch” in its name, so I fired it up. It turns out to be called TouchRetouch Free, and it’s based entirely around content-aware fill/erase. It’s designed to remove unwanted content from your photos. It was just what I needed! In under three minutes, I’d vaporized the offending text – and that includes time spent figuring out the UI and reading the one-page help screen.

I will probably be upgrading to the paid version soon. Ninety-nine cents seems a quite reasonable price for this software!

So I saved the retouched photo, re-opened Instagram, cropped and posted. Total time… hard to say, especially given that I was walking around at the time and had to pause for an unrelated task in the middle. But it didn’t feel like a huge hassle, that’s for sure.

Previous image, cropped to a square (1-to-1) aspect ratio, and with offending text removed

From the above photo to this version, in a time that was definitely under 10 minutes, on a mobile phone. That’s pretty cool.

Addendum: By the way, if you want to follow me on Instagram, my handle there is kmactane, just like my Twitter handle. I’d link to my Instagram user page except… there is no such thing. Seems quite silly of Instagram. I’ll be writing more about that later.

One Comment

  1. Posted Saturday, April 21st, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Mobile apps to do cropping have been around for a long time. In fact you could even do it by zooming into a photo and taking a screenshot, so that’s actually c.2007. That loses even more data, though, because you’re only getting a screen resolution image. Plus its forced to the dimensions of your screen, so you can’t choose the aspect ratio. But surely there were mobile apps to do arbitrary aspect ratio cropping, maintaining the original image’s bit depth, c.2008 when app stores and 3rd party mobile apps became A Thing.

    I know Adobe did a Photoshop mobile app with basic image editing a long time ago, but I never used it so I don’t know if it had content aware fill/erase.

    Anyway, cropping and basic editing is now being built-in to mobile OS photo galleries (I’ve got red eye removal and “auto enhance”) and mobile photo editing apps keep getting more advanced (Photoshop Touch and Photoshop Express are now on both Android and iOS–see http://www.photoshop.com/products/mobile; also described as remarkably feature-rich is http://www.apple.com/apps/iphoto/). Plus twitpic/Wordpress apps/etc. for photo blogging have been around for a while, so the speculative part of that “Charles Stross speculative incident” has already been just the “eyeballs” HUD. (Kind of your point in this post, right?) MIT Media Lab has been doing in-glasses HUDs for a long time, too, so that’s just extrapolation of lab-to-product (like Google Glasses are).

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