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The Roll helps you find the best photos on your phone

TechCrunch TechCrunch 12/05/2016 Haje Jan Kamps

Wondering which of the tens of thousands of photos on your phone are worth keeping or sharing may be a thing of the past, thanks to The Roll, a brand new app from EyeEm. The iOS app analyses your camera roll and uses computer vision to tag your images, and to rank your photos by how good they are.

“The Roll is there to replace your phone’s camera roll,” said Florian Meissner, EyeEm’s CEO, as he showed me the technology in action on his own phone containing tens of thousands of photographs.

The Roll is an incredibly impressive piece of tech, solving a problem that Apple has been wrestling with for years. The existing iOS camera roll attempt to group images by date and geolocation, but that solves only part of what eager photographers want. In addition to taking into account the location and date of the photos, The Roll uses computer vision to analyze and tag images, making it easy to find the photo you were looking for.

On The Roll, images are tagged and grouped by topics, location, and events, with the best shot from each category highlighted. Visually similar photos are stacked, placing the image with the highest aesthetic score on top. In the detailed view, you’ll see the score, automatically added keywords and camera information relevant to camera buffs, such as aperture, shutter speed, and ISO information.

“When you first launch the app,” Meissner explains, “small thumbnails of the images are uploaded to our server. The images are then analyzed and tagged, and the information is downloaded to the app. Our algorithm knows more than 20,000 keywords, and adds two scores to the image: One is a quality score, and the other is a commercial value score.”

The quality score is exposed to the end user, but of course this is more than an exercise in just showing you which of your images are good: The app is a play to help users filter and select photographs for them to sell on the rapidly growing EyeEm Marketplace.

“The goal is to categorize the trillions of images we take today and surface the best content,” said EyeEm Co­founder and CTO Ramzi Rizk of the company’s EyeEm Vision technology, which also can be experienced on its website, in the web uploading tool for its photographic marketplace. “The Roll is bringing this technology to your very own camera roll.”

I’ve been playing with The Roll for a while, and the technology really is spookily good. The tagging is comprehensive and accurate; a quick search for “cat” and “blue”, for example, shows all the images containing various combinations of felines and the color blue. A search of “London” and “Sign” correctly showed me an image I remembered from a holiday many years ago. Without The Roll, finding that particular image on my phone would have taken half an hour of scrolling.

The quality scoring is uncanny as well. It isn’t yet perfect and I don’t always agree with the cloud’s taste in photography, but it is extremely efficient at filtering out images that are of sub-optimal standard; photos that are too dark or suffer from blur are thrown right to the bottom of the list. It is also rather talented at surfacing the best images from a particular event or keyword, which is a blessing for a snappy-happy photographer such as myself.

The real revolution here is not obvious, but technology like EyeEm Vision and The Roll will change how we use photography; it is no longer necessary to tag images to find them. To understand why this is important, look at the way people now use the world wide web: Five years ago, we had a huge, very carefully curated collection of bookmarks. At some point, all of that was replaced by Google — why bother keeping a list of links up to date, when all the pages you need are at your fingertips? Similarly, The Roll will give you unprecedented access and explorability of your own photographs.

The only piece of the puzzle that’s missing is the desktop. The Roll is borderline magic, and if you have any interest in photography, you should absolutely try it out, but what I really want is for this technology to be available on my computer. Tagging and organizing photos is the biggest chore in photography, and The Roll feels like a proof of concept a teaser for what is to come. EyeEm, if you’re reading this: If you really want to set the photography world on fire, release this tech as an Adobe Lightroom plugin.

The iOS version of The Roll is launching today, and an Android version is in the pipeline.

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