"This is a new era of photography," Apple (AAPL 0.48%) marketing chief Phil Schiller said at last year's iPhone event. "Some people call it computational photography."
Computational photography has been all the rage over the past couple of years, particularly as tech companies work to improve the low-light performance of smartphone cameras. Alphabet subsidiary Google earned critical praise last year with the Pixel 3's Night Sight, with Apple following up with its own competing Night Mode in the iPhone 11. Using a flash for low-light photos is so 2017.
"The innovation of Night mode is incredible! It makes the world at night, the brightness, the fall of light into the frame of a photograph like a painting." Wonderful to hear from the amazing Annet de Graaf. Love her work! 🇳🇱 https://t.co/VQSpKh1bDX #shotoniPhone pic.twitter.com/RDbqjBehBd— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) November 15, 2019
The Mac maker has also released Deep Fusion, which Schiller billed as "computational photography mad science" at this year's iPhone unveiling. The technology leverages machine learning and the neural engine found inside iPhone chips to improve photo quality. In its ongoing quest to deliver better smartphone photos, Apple has now acquired Spectral Edge.
Looking for an edge in computational photography
Bloomberg reported last week that Apple purchased the U.K.-based start-up, citing regulatory filings that have recently been made public. Apple director of corporate law Peter Denwood was appointed as a director of Spectral Edge in November while other directors were terminated, the filings show. The address listed for Denwood is Apple's Cupertino headquarters, Apple Park.
Spectral Edge was initially a research project at the University of East Anglia and specializes in using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to improve image quality. The company's patented Image Fusion technology enhances color accuracy by taking infrared pictures that are combined with regular photos.
No financial terms or purchase price were included in the report, but Spectral Edge closed a Series A funding round in April 2018, raising $5.3 million in the process. The start-up's total funding is an estimated $8.1 million, according to Crunchbase. The purchase price was certainly on the low end of Apple's acquisitions historically.
Apple confirmed the deal to The Financial Times with its standard boilerplate response when any of its acquisitions are discovered: "Apple buys smaller companies from time to time, and we generally don't discuss our purpose or plans." CEO Tim Cook noted in May that Apple typically acquires a company every two to three weeks on average, usually in pursuit of talent and/or intellectual property.
Camera performance has long been one of the most important competitive arenas for smartphones, which is why Apple dedicates so much time discussing each year's camera improvements when it unveils new models. Apple confirmed in 2015 that it has 800 engineers on its camera team -- more than some entire companies. It's unclear how large the camera team is currently, but it's about to get bigger.