The way cameras have represented skin has probably always been faulty. In the sense that skin tone representation for those with darker skin tones, hasn’t always been accurate. That’s something Google wants to change, at least on their Pixel phones as well as Android phones in the due course of time. The company announced at the annual I/O developer conference that they are reworking the image processing in smartphone cameras to better represent different skin tones, including changes to auto white balance and exposure handling. A standard problem with cameras is that depending on ambient lighting, they tend to either over-expose skin to avoid loss of detail or change colour saturation which alters the reality of the skin tone we see in photos. The camera updates will be rolled out for the Google Pixel phones later this year and will made available for all other Android phones.
During the Google I/O 2021 keynote, the company admitted that photography hasn’t always represented people of colour accurately, and that they are working with experts of make the cameras on phones more accurate and inclusive. And it is not just skin, Google always wants photos to better represent other facial and body features, including hair curls. Google says engineers are working with thousands of images to expand the dataset available for cameras and image processing algorithm. The attempt is to fix biases with auto exposure and white balance settings. “We’re making auto white balance adjustments to algorithmically reduce stray light, to bring out natural brown tones and prevent over brightening and desaturation of darker skin tones,” says Sameer Samat, Google vice president of Android and Google Play.
This announcement came alongside significant updates to the Google Photos app, which will now add a passcode protected lockable folder, more control over memories that you want to or don’t want to see and Cinematic Photos in recent highlights. These updates will be rolling out for Android phones through the year while Locked Folder will first be available on the Google Pixel phones before being made available on other Android phones. Google also announced the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in helping users find answers for most common skin conditions using the Google app on their phones, before heading to the doctor. The pilot of the AI powered dermatology assist tool is expected to be made available as a web-based app later this year—a user will just have to use the phone’s camera to take photos of the skin, nail or hair concern and Google’s tool will try to identify that for you.