Google Delivers Automated Photo-Editing and Major Updates for Google+, Hangouts

By Cameron Scott 

Google will begin rolling out a customizable multi-column design for the Google+ stream later today, bringing sophisticated photo-editing tools into the platform and spinning out Hangouts as a free-standing app.

Google launched a package of automatic photo-editing tools that automatically adjust exposure, color, grain, white balance and red eye removal that is automatically accessible for all images shared through Google’s Picassa or Google+. The tools, which can be turned on or off globally or for each image, draw on substantial innovations in computer vision.

Facial recognition doesn’t just identify a face, but looks for smiles, for example. Vic Gundotra also suggested in his presentation this morning at Google’s I/O conference that the technology recognizes which faces belong to users’ close friends and family. Google also launched image recognition for major world landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower.

The image-recognition and -editing features allow Google to automatically select the best photos from a large uploaded group. It can also create an animation of a set of photos taken in sequence.

“Photography can be a very rewarding experience. But photography is also very labor intensive, it takes a lot of time to organize, edit, upload and share — time that many of us don’t have. At Google, we think we can give you some of your time back if you can let our cloud do some of that for you,” said senior vice president Vic Gundotra.

Google’s developments in image recognition are also on display in a major update to Google+ the company will roll out this afternoon. The company is taking the content stream to a more tiled look with multiple columns. Google will supply each status update with hashtags automatically. (The function can be turned off.) By clicking the hashtag, the user can see additional images and information about a topic. For instance, a photo of the Eiffel Tower will display additional photos of the Parisian landmark. Even if the user does not tag the image, Google’s technology recognizes landmarks and will tag the image, and a user who clicks the tag will see additional photos of the Eiffel Tower within the Google+ interface.

Gundotra said 190 million people are now active on the Google+ website, while an additional 200 million touch Google+ services by +1’ing apps in Google Play, making video calls in Gmail, or other related activities.

Google+’s most popular features, Hangouts, became further removed from the social network, becoming a free-standing app. The video-chat app now includes text communications with social contacts and allows users to move back and forth between the two modes of communication. Users who run different operating systems can also communicate using the app.