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Facebook’s flavour of the Moment

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When a billion human beings logged onto Facebook last Monday, it was just one landmark in the social network’s quest to connect humanity. For South Africans, another came just a day later, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When a billion people log on to your service in a single day, you know you’re having a massive impact on humanity. That’s one in seven people on the planet. But it also means that you have a huge challenge on your hands: how to keep them coming back, and how to keep improving their experience when they do come back.

Last Tuesday, the day after Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had reached a billion visitors in one day, Facebook introduced South Africans to a new service designed to enhance the sharing culture that is at the heart of the social network’s success.

Called Moments, it’s described as “a private way to share photos with friends”. It groups photos on one’s phone based on when they were taken, and uses facial recognition technology to identify the people in the photos. Friends can then synchronise from the same event, choosing with whom they want to share and sync. In the process they receive photos from the same event taken by those friends.

In a blog post when it was first launched in the United States in June, Moments product manager Will Ruben explained the thinking:

“With a phone at everyone’s fingertips, the moments in our lives are captured by a new kind of photographer: our friends. It’s hard to get the photos your friends have taken of you, and everyone always insists on taking that same group shot with multiple phones to ensure they get a copy. Even if you do end up getting some of your friends’ photos, it’s difficult to keep them all organized in one place on your phone.

“Syncing photos with the Moments app is a private way to give photos to friends and get the photos you didn’t take.”

As with most new Facebook products and services, Moments has been rolled out on a staggered basis, beginning in North America in June and finally reaching South Africa two months later.

“We’re excited to be launching it in many more countries around the world,” Ruben said in an interview this week. “It will also be translated into many more languages.”

A key aspect of Moments is that it is not integrated into Facebook itself, but is what Ruben describes as “a totally separate experience from the normal Facebook experience”. That’s because it’s a product of Creative Labs, a division of Facebook that, it says, “is crafting new apps to support the diverse ways people want to connect and share”. However, it is generally regarded as the space where small teams have free reign to experiment with new apps and options.

“Our group came together to solve a specific problem,” says Ruben. “We’ve all experienced those times when we’re hanging out with friends and take pics and say we’ll send them later but that never happens. It’s too hard to share lot of photos with a small group of people. You also have big group shots where everyone has their own version because they each had it taken with their own phone cameras.”

Sharing in Moments, he stresses, is totally separate from sharing on Facebook: “It’s you, your pics and your friends. By sharing in this way, it increases the chance of getting that pic you know was taken but you didn’t have on your own phone.”

The facial recognition technology at the heart of Moments may seem intimidating to those who have heard of such techniques being used for law enforcement. However, Facebook has been using it for several years already, as the basis for recommending which friends to tag in photos users post in their timelines.

Moments takes this a step further not in terms of technological advance, but in terms of how the technology can be put to use. Aside from identifying faces, it also synchronises them, links them up between friends’ albums – where they have accepted the link – and offers suggestions for who is in what pic.

“Moments also organizes pics in other ways,” says Ruben. “You can see all the pics you received in chronological gallery view, like a camera roll, but with a higher signal to noise ratio than a camera roll, because it not only syncs those pics that you took with friends, but also contains other people’s photos.

“I have 1400 photos of myself, and 1300 of my girlfriend, mostly because other people have synced photos of myself they’ve taken. I also have five pics of my brother Andrew he doesn’t have yet, so he can just press the Check button and he has five photos of himself he wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

The coup de grace for Moments is that it can automatically make a movie of the best photos in a particular “moment”, for example to tell the story of a wedding. The user can choose from a number of themes, and the app creates photo transitions to beat of music, making for what Ruben calls “a high quality sharing experience”.

The movie can be edited quickly, with photos added or removed if the app missed key images or added unwanted ones. The entire movie is then instantly recalibrated so that the music still keeps time with the images.

Aside from putting a good few existing apps out of business, Moments is also an answer to an increasingly common question in social media: Can we ever get enough of sharing? For now, the answer seems to be “No”.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

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Huawei Mate 20 Pro matches camera benchmark record

A benchmark by DxOMark sees the triple-cam handset tie with the P20 Pro for best smartphone camera on the market.

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The Huawei Mate 20 Pro has come out top in a camera benchmark test that assesses all aspects of smartphone camera performance.

DxOMark, which conducts rigorous hardware testing and is trusted as an industry standard for image quality measurements, has just released the results of its in-depth analysis of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro smartphone camera. 

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the Chinese manufacturer’s latest top-end device. Building on the P20 Pro’s camera technology, the Mate 20 Pro comes with a Leica-branded triple-camera setup, but swaps its stable-mate’s monochrome camera for a super-wide-angle module, offering a 35mm-equivalent focal length range from 16 to 80mm—the widest of all current smartphone cameras.

The handset is in direct competition with the Apple iPhone XS Max, the Google Pixel 3 XL, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, among other. How does it fare?

“With a total photo score of 114, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro ties the record-setting score of its cousin, the P20 Pro,” says DxOMark. “The overall Photo score is calculated from sub-scores in tests that examine different aspects of its performance under different lighting conditions.”

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro achieves a photo score of 114 points. In stills mode, the Mate 20 Pro’s triple camera captures images with good target exposure and a wide dynamic range, recording both good highlight and shadow detail even in difficult high-contrast situations. Noise levels are well under control down to low light levels, and the camera’s white balance system and colour rendering settings produce a pleasant colour response in almost all circumstances.

At 97 points, the Mate 20 Pro is very close to the best for video as well, thanks to a fast and smooth autofocus system with good tracking performance, accurate white balance as well as pleasant colour rendering, and low levels of noise, especially in bright shooting conditions. Our testers also liked the exposure system’s ability to adapt quickly and smoothly to changes in illumination.

It was not all good news. DxOMark also had some criticism for the device.

Click here to read about the drawbacks of the Mate 20 Pro camera, and other positives.

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SA car wins
Dakar Rally

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The final stage of Dakar 2019 drew to a close at the bivouac in Pisco, Peru, and saw Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa’s Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel bring home their South African-built Toyota Hilux for an historic victory. Not only was it a first win for Toyota, but it was also the first petrol-powered car to win the Dakar in the South-American era.

The Qatari driver ensured his French navigator, who turned 43 years old on Thursday, 17 January, received a great birthday present, when the pair arrived at the final time control of Dakar 2019 with teammates Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz in close formation. The two Toyota Hilux crews completed the entire stage together, as De Villiers / Von Zitzewitz waited nearly 55 minutes for the leaders to start the stage, in order to shadow them to the finish.

The emotions bubbled over for Team Principal Glyn Hall, who found himself without words as his two crews drove into the media area after the time control. “This victory was long overdue,” he finally managed, before being swamped in a sea of well-wishers.

The winning driver, however, was much more vocal: “We are so happy to win the Dakar – not only for ourselves, but also for Toyota and the entire Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team. Everyone has worked so hard for so long, and really deserve this. Thank you for letting us drive this car.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing SA led Dakar 2019 from the first to the last stage, with Al Attiyah/Baumel drawing first blood, before handing the mantle to De Villiers / Von Zitzewitz during stage 2. But then a disastrous Stage 3 saw the Qatari retake the lead – a lead he didn’t relinquish despite some of the toughest stages yet seen on any South-American Dakar.

“When we first heard that the rally was going to take place only in one country, we were skeptical,” said Hall after regaining composure. “But the organisers made sure that this year’s race will long be remembered as one of the toughest tests in the last decade.”

Al Attiyah / Baumel’s victory at Dakar 2019 means that Toyota Gazoo Racing has now won both of the world’s toughest automotive races – the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the DakarRally.

Click here to read Glyn Hall’s comment on winning the Dakar Rally, as well as the rankings.

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