Apple dreams up tech for a social distance group selfie


iPhone X Portrait selfies
Social distancing and group selfies don’t mix. But Apple might have a solution: the synthetic group selfie.
Photo: Apple

Even in the age of social distancing, the group selfie doesn’t have to be an endangered species. For several years, Apple has been investigating automatically merging multiple images into a group selfie.

And now that the company has a patent on the idea, it could be part of iOS 14 or a later version.

The recently awarded “Generating synthetic group selfies” patent covers “an arrangement or composition of individual selfies obtained from a plurality of computing devices into a single group image.”

Apple probably won’t call it a synthetic group selfie

Apple points out the difficulty of snapping a good group selfie in its patent filing. “While capturing an individual selfie can be accomplished easily since only the user needs to be placed within the field of view of the image capturing device,” it says, “capturing a group selfie can be much more difficult since the user must arrange the user and the user’s friends within the field of view of the image capture device when capturing the group selfie. Thus, an easier mechanism for capturing a group selfie would be advantageous.”

And that was written before the COVID-19 pandemic. Crowding multiple friends into a pic becomes nigh-impossible when everyone in it needs to keep 6 feet apart to avoid spreading the coronavirus. “Social distance group selfie” is an oxymoron.

There’s an answer, though. Suppose the iPhone or iPad unites the disparate images. Apple proposes that a “computing device can automatically arrange the individual selfies into the synthetic group selfie.”

But while this seems like a great idea, that’s all it is. An idea. Apple now has a patent on the concept of creating a group selfie from a collection of individual ones. We don’t know whether the company actually built software that can do this.

Anyone with Photoshop skills can already merge individuals into a group image, but it’s not always easy. Sometimes people look like they’ve just been cut out with scissors and stuck on with Elmer’s glue. And Apple isn’t likely to add a synthetic group selfie feature to iOS 14 if it doesn’t work well.

We’ll get a better idea on June 22. Apple will unveil iOS 14 and other upcoming software updates at the Worldwide Developers Conference later this month.