Essential is considering its prospects for AI photography in a future smartphone based on a recent patent spotted by Android Headlines at the World Intellectual Patent Organization (WIPO). The invention is defined as both a software and hardware solution for creating 'artistic' final results in terms of both photos and videos using AI modules, specialized hardware, and standard image processing. It would also rely on the usual inclusions with a smartphone camera including a depth sensor and motion tracker, with all of the data being run through AI modules. The AI would additionally be used to partition out background photo and video data from the foreground for a more accurate blurring effect in portrait mode or to make a specified "layer" of the image pop. Finally, it would able to compensate for poor lighting, according to the patent claims. In each case, the solution would compare results from its own adjustments against deep learning data to generate an 'aesthetic score'. The image with the highest score is the one that would be presented to the end user.
Improving on a very shaky photographic start
Essential is a relatively new company with just one smartphone to its name, the Essential PH-1, and a very shaky start in the mobile photography arena despite being helmed by Android co-creator Andy Rubin. The previous handset bearing the brand launched in August of 2017 after a May announcement with poorly optimized camera software but the problems for the company actually started well before that point. In the lead-up to the device, several sample photos that were blurry or contained artifacts and other distortions were leaked out by the company. So nobody expected brilliant images from Essential's first device but the results of its shooters actually seemed worse when it finally started shipping. All of those problems were tied to software problems and fixed via subsequent updates that were still rolling out as of the middle of 2018. Despite those improvements, new features, and a massive price cut, the handset never really took off in the way it was intended to.
Since that debacle, the titanium and ceramic device has officially been removed from retail to make way for its "next mobile product" while both AI software and associated dedicated chipsets have become more widespread and popular even in mid-range smartphones. That includes the latest chip offering from Snapdragon, the Snapdragon 855, which features dedicated partitions for the technology. Essential has always touted its devices as featuring the very best and latest technology packaged in the best build materials available. So it wouldn't be at all surprising for Essential to include an AI camera in its next smartphone, in keeping with the variations of the software that has been released by competitors such as Samsung, Huawei, and Google.
Filling the need for a more 'essential' smartphone
Essential arguably cannot handle many more mistakes with its smartphone products at this juncture. The company has already had several scandals on top of its first smartphone's considerable shortcomings, including allegations of sexual misconduct against Andy Rubin back in 2017. On top of those issues, even without major pitfalls right out of the gate, Essential is already at a disadvantage. OEMs typically release several smartphones across successive tiers in price and features. Having only one product on the market at a time effectively means more money lost when it flops, even if sales pick up later. Even if its device is exceptionally well made and performs perfectly, Essential may still need to overcome a stigma from that previous flagship. So Essential's considerations for next-generation features to set it apart could prove useful when its next smartphone finally does launch, if it chooses to include the features.