Yesterday, HTC announced an automated video editor called Zoe that fits somewhere between Instagram’s Hyperlapse, which processes videos into short time-lapsed video, and Google Auto Awesome Stories, which automatically selects and creates a scrapbook from images uploaded to Google Plus. Zoe is available for Android on Google Play and will be available for iOS on the Apple App Store later this year.
"HTC is a personal technology company," Jonah Becker, VP of industrial design, said after the formal announcement. Though make no mistake about it, the company isn't done making smartphones. This announcement was a little different because it wasn't really a smartphone announcement. It was a show of cameras and imaging software. Two 13-megapixal cameras, one front and one back in the new HTC Eye, and an ultra-portable hand-held camera were given a share of the spotlight on center stage. HTC shined a greater share of the spotlight on the photo and video software announced.
To begin with a few more details about the Zoe app and cloud service, users can combine videos automatically into a composite video of 7, 15, and 30 seconds in length. No surprise, the video lengths align with Snapchat, Hyperlapse, and Facebook. An algorithm chooses how to edit the videos into a short series of highlights. After the composite video has been created, it can be set to music with another algorithm aligning the music by beat with the video scene transitions. Themes with Instagram-like filters and special transitions can be applied to the video mashup. Here is an example of a Zoe mashup:
Friends can be invited to collaborate and add their own video highlights to the video mashup uploaded to the Zoe cloud service. At this point, HTC becomes the personal technology company that Becker mentioned. Up until now, HTC's customer engagement has been focused on building the best smartphone hardware, bar none, including Apple. Though HTC customers use their smartphones every day, engagement with the company is limited during the two-year interval between upgrades. Zoe connects consumers with the company in the meantime. Though it’s smaller in scale, it is similar to how Google’s Android apps draw consumers to interact more with Google. Zoe is designed to engage all smartphone users, including those with iPhones. It is the start of an HTC ecosystem.
Many video and photo imaging features were announced with the HTC Eye smartphone that will also be available for the HTC One. Some of the most notable are enhanced selfies and face tracking.
In recognition of the selfie trend, HTC has given consumers a lot more options. Using the front and back cameras, a split-screen selfie shot can be taken with the front camera and added in a split-screen image with an image taken with the rear camera's field of view. Video and still-image selfies can be taken with “say cheese” and “action” voice commands. The Crop Me In feature drops a selfie into a background image. Most interesting perhaps to couples planning children is the Fusion app, which merges the facial features of two people into a composite of both.
Face tracking works with Skype and other video communications apps to keep the subjects’ heads centered in the conference field of view, despite their multitasking movements. An impressive demonstration built on Youtube tracks the faces of up to four individuals in the same location and streams their faces in a 2x2 grid to anyone with the Youtube URL.
HTC also announced a handheld camera and smartphone. The RE is a simple handheld camera that could create a new category like the GoPro, but it’s not really a head-on competitor. The HTC Eye smartphone was also announced. A top phone by every measure, but it really seemed to be a platform for Zoe and other photo and video imaging software.