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Apple buys UK startup Spectral Edge to supercharge iPhone camera

Anthony Cuthbertson
The camera on the iPhone 11 could receive a major upgrade after Apple acquired Spectral Edge: CC

Apple has acquired UK-based photography startup Spectral Edge, whose technology could soon find its way into the cameras of new iPhones.

Details of the buyout are yet to be revealed by either company, though filings at Companies House show that the Cupertino company now controls the Cambridge startup.

The filings, first reported by Bloomberg, also revealed that Apple corporate lawyer Peter Denwood has been named director of the startup.

Spectral Edge’s website, as well as all of its social media accounts, have also been taken down.

Neither Apple nor Spectral Edge responded to a request for comment.

Founded in 2014 by researchers at the University of East Anglia, Spectral Edge developed a form of machine learning that can improve photographs in real-time.

It achieves this by combining images captured by a standard camera lens with data from an infrared shot, which has the effect of significantly improving the depth of colour in an image.

“It’s bringing extra detail into the picture that you can’t necessarily see with a normal camera, because infrared penetrates through mist and fog much better than visible light,” Spectral Edge’s managing director Christopher Cytera said in a 2016 interview with TechCrunch.

“The secret sauce is being able to combine the infrared with the visible light picture in a way that’s pleasing. There’s been other techniques to combine the two in the past but they don’t end up with pictures that are nice to look at.”

Spectral Edge is the second acquisition of a UK startup for Apple this year, following the takeover of digital marketing startup DataTiger in February.

The technology giant will be hoping the latest buyout can offer a critical edge over competitors when it comes to camera performance, which has become one of the key differentiators between high-end smartphones in recent years.

Apple is not expected to release a new iPhone until September 2020, meaning there is plenty of time to integrate Spectral Edge’s technology into its devices.

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