Samsung is up to something.
It be could prove to be something profound in the video conferencing field, or it could turn out to be just another cute novelty.
The world’s most popular mobile phone maker has won patent protection on a couple of technologies that could make it possible to use augmented reality during a video call. Those ideas are likely to initially build on the company’s AR Emoji technology, which lets users turn their selfies into animated avatars. Online rumor suggests the patented tech will turn those emojis from messaging props into live video calling masks.
What makes that gossip more exciting than the possibility of a new Snapchat filter or Apple Animoji is that the same tech could render its visual in 3D. Still not impressed? Well, what if the scanning hardware that captures your selfie and makes it into a cartoon could instead project your real, live image in 3D over a video call? Now that would be interesting and result in Samsung AR emoji video calls that are reminiscent of the Star Wars holograms we’ve been promised for so long.
Samsung Native Video Calling
If Samsung is heading toward 3D video calls it will first have to produce a video conferencing app of its own, which is interesting news in itself. The mobile giant controls around a quarter of the smartphone sales market but doesn’t have its own native video caller like Apple has with FaceTime. It relies instead on Android-hosted apps such as Google’s Duo or Microsoft’s Skype, or increasingly video-friendly messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. If you’re interested in more reliable VC apps, VC Daily recently rounded up a shortlist of the best group video calling apps currently available for Android.
If Samsung shipped its own video chat app with its phones, however, it could gain users through simple ease of access. It works for FaceTime, which has little to recommend it besides convenience.
Should that native app come loaded with a dynamic new form of 3D video calling, Samsung could create a juggernaut–one that’s both the most interesting and most accessible video app available on the most popular smartphone. Before Samsung can take over the social video chat world, though, it must turn patent potential into a practical app.
Hybrid Visual Communication
Samsung won patent protection for the most recent of two AR-related technologies in April this year. It describes “hybrid visual communication” technology for mobile that would grant users the power of 3D video calling as computer-generated avatars. As can be seen in the patent’s accompanying artwork, the app would demand that Samsung update its Galaxy models with more advanced 3D cameras.
The current AR Emoji app that debuted with the Galaxy S9 series creates its dancing avatars by converting simple 2D images into 3D drawings. You can see the “uncanny valley” results here:
More importantly, the video below shows the difference the superior cameras on the iPhone X make when producing the eerily similar Apple Animoji range:
Essentially, while Samsung’s AR Emoji has more options, including unlimited message recording and editing, the visuals aren’t as good as the Animoji–Samsung’s offering does not read facial expressions as well as Apple’s does, and it misses a lot of nuances.
However, should the Galaxy S10 range introduce a better 3D-sensing camera–and rumors suggest it will–then Samsung could be on to something. Especially if users can take the experience into a live video call.
Samsung AR Emoji Video Calls in Projected 3D
We’ve been waiting for 3D video ever since Princess Leia beamed her “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi” distress call onto cinema screens in the 1970s. The difference between that fantasy and today’s holographic reality is size. The intergalactic message came out of a dustbin-sized robot, while today’s holograms rely on elaborate, expensive multi-camera arrays that only the richest businesses can afford–Accenture, for instance, has dedicated holographic calling booths around the world for its own internal use. Even cutting-edge technology like that produced by researchers at Canada’s Queens University is impractically large and complicated…and still not convincing:
The second Samsung patent referred to earlier, however, could be a big leap forward. In 2013, the company lodged details of a 3D calling system that would work over the average bandwidth connection.
So, let’s assume that tech makes 3D call processing possible within a mobile device. Then, put it within a Galaxy S10 with a super new 3D facial recognition camera and the ability to project an image. Pour the contents of the existing AR Emoji app into that phone and shift the emphasis from cartoonish avatars and toward capturing a real human face…and you’ve got holographic video calling!
It would be a sensational solution to smartphone video calling’s biggest drawback, the small screen. These screens make joining professional group video chats a chore. Even though apps such as Messenger can host up to 50 callers, for practical, screen size reasons, the majority of callers have to sit out the live action offscreen. With projected 3D increasing the reality and depth of a call, we could see some relief from video meeting squeeze. Perhaps the curvature of the Galaxy screen could be employed to round out the image a little as well?
There’s a serious side to all this computer-generated video fantasy. We’re currently experiencing a rise in demand for flexible workers who communicate from their own digital devices. Any technology that can improve the display of smartphones opens them up to be taken more seriously as video conferencing sources. Samsung’s experiment with talking monkey masks could, with the help of augmented reality, actually lead to more professional and practical video conferencing.