Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Silly Selfie Surreptitious Skin Smoothing Scandal

I guess that’s what the “S” in “iPhone XS” stands for.

Kif Leswing of Business Insider dedicated the vast majority of an article to an apparent controversy surrounding the images coming off the iPhone XS’ front-facing camera:

According to Apple, the selfie camera system on the iPhone X uses faster sensors, improved chips, and “advanced algorithms” to make your photos look better with a feature called “Smart HDR.”

But some people who have received the new iPhone XS say that the new selfie camera makes them look too good — so good that they think Apple must have added a “beauty mode” filter to the camera’s algorithms to smooth the subject’s skin.

Beauty mode is a feature on a lot of phones and apps that are popular in Asia, like Samsung devices or apps like Meitu or FaceTune. It smooths out and brightens your skin so you look a little more polished on social media.

Several quotes from Lewis Hilsenteger — the Unbox Therapy guy — and Twitter embeds presented without skepticism later, Leswing gets to a more rational reason:

Apple declined to comment on the record when reached by Business Insider, but some people on the Reddit and MacRumors threads say the effect people are seeing isn’t a beauty filter, but is instead part of the new iPhone noise reduction capabilities.

[…]

This suggests that perhaps if a photo is taken with more light, the smoothing would appear less prominent. A test run on Thursday in natural daylight did show a less pronounced smoothing effect.

So, despite several uncritically-presented social media posts and giving a –gate-suffixed name to this whole thing, it’s nothing? I am, of course, shocked by Business Insider’s apparent lack of journalistic scruples.

Oh, but Leswing couldn’t just leave it at that:

Apple is unlikely to force a so-called “beauty mode” on iPhone camera users — after all, if people really want to apply filters like that to a photo, they can download any number of apps that do it, like FaceTune, which is one of the best-selling paid apps in the App Store.

Still, beauty filter features are popular in Asia, a region where Apple needs to excel to justify its $1 trillion valuation, even if the effects from apps like Meitu are far more pronounced than what online observers say is happening on iPhones.

Why must there be a storyline and a contrived justification for Apple’s overly-aggressive noise reduction? People generally like smoother pictures because they give the impression of clarity, and will tolerate a lack of detail at typical viewing sizes more than they will a grainy photo. That’s basically it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple dials that back if they receive enough complaints that it’s too aggressive, but the idea that this is Apple’s big new controversy over this year’s iPhones is patently ridiculous.