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FaceTime gets Portrait Mode in iOS 15 to give the look of DSLR prime lens systems

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The “Pro-Vlogger” look popularized on YouTube now available to all…

Above: The stunning Portrait mode from the Camera app is now optimized for video calls in FaceTime.
Photo Credit / Apple

If you are a prolific FaceTime user or if you don’t use it as much as you would if the aesthetics were a bit better (read: more flattering selfie styles) you are in luck. In a twist which takes advantage of tech that was initially created to make portrait mode a reality in the iPhone camera app is now coming to FaceTime on iPhone and also on iPad.

The maturation of features across platforms is paying big dividends

Portrait mode was added to the camera app as a way to get a DSLR style “prime lens” look with “bokeh” which is a Japanese term for the beautiful background out of focus blur that a long lens focused on the subject in the foreground will produce.

The computational fireworks required to produce this effect are nothing short of…. well check out Apple’s description:

” It’s a depth-guided, people-focused segmentation mask generated from a proprietary Apple neural network trained to detect people. It separates an individual in the foreground from whatever is in the background, with greater detail and clarity than with the depth map alone. It achieves this clarity in part because the matte image has higher resolution than the depth map.”


So this effect, which has been in the iPhone camera app since iOS 12 is now, likely due to the ever beefier potentials of the proprietary Apple neural network can now, starting with iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 be applied to video. Live.

New features in FaceTime help users look and sound their best. – credit: Apple

This, like so many other upgrades revealed today at the WWDC2021, is a great idea. High end YouTube videographers know it’s a great idea which is why they buy special DSLR camera with prime lenses just to get the very beautiful and flattering effect of a sharp subject in the foreground and a compressed, blurred “bokeh” effect in the background.

New features in FaceTime help users look and sound their best.

Not only visual but also audio upgrades are coming

They are also adding another obviously useful feature “spatial audio”, which creates the effect of having the perceived source location of each speaker match where they appear on the screen.

This is combined with “new microphone modes” which can reduce background noises and audio interference when in a chaotic sound environment and, alternatively when appropriate pickup an entire soundscape all at once.

All in all these improvements to both the visual experience, and the audio are a much needed change from the often ugly reality of bad-webcam zoom style meetings we all endured during 2020.

And with the front facing camera, lighting and software beautifications constantly getting better, we can, at least those with great internet and high end devices, look forward to a much more sensually pleasing level of FaceTime interactions.

Additional new upgraded features for FaceTime include, but are not limited to:

A new grid view that makes it possible to do a “zoom” like stack of equal size boxes.

SharePlay which is a somewhat odd sounding option to share “Apple Music, watching a TV show or movie in sync, or sharing their screen to view apps together”. Additionally, sharing can include anyone using an iPhone, iPad or Mac and if shared playback controls are active any of the parties that are sharing can play, pause or jump ahead.

Users can now share experiences with SharePlay while connecting with friends on FaceTime, including listening to songs together with Apple Music, watching a TV show or movie in sync, or sharing their screen to view apps together. SharePlay works across iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and with shared playback controls, anyone in a SharePlay session can play, pause, or jump ahead.

There’s an expanding list of sources that can be used, including, of course, Apple TV, but also third party services that opt in, and currently, according to Apple the list already includes: Disney+, ESPN+, HBO Max, Hulu, MasterClass, Paramount+, Pluto TV, TikTok, Twitch, and many others

FaceTime calls that use all of these new features will continue to be end-to-end encrypted, so privacy is not compromised.


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