If your phone takes amazing photos, the camera has probably been enhanced with artificial intelligence built into the operating system. Now videos are treated the same.
In recent years, smartphone manufacturers have gradually transformed their cameras into devices that collect data for AI processing that go beyond what the lens and sensor capture in a single shot. This effectively turns a smartphone in auto mode into a professional camera and lowers the bar for taking convincing pictures and videos.
In an era of TikTok and vlogging is in high demand for easy-to-produce videos on the go. Like still images, videos recorded with smartphones are based not only on the lens and sensor, but also on improvement algorithms. To a certain extent, these lines of code are more critical than the hardware, argued Andreas Lifvendahl, founder and CEO of the Swedish company Imint, whose software now improves video production in around 250 million devices, most of which come from Chinese manufacturers.
“(Smartphone manufacturers) obtain different types of camera solutions – motion sensors, gyroscopes and so on. I would say the real differentiator is more on the software side, ”Lifvendahl theinformationsuperhighway said over the phone.
Intelligent video recording
Imint was founded in 2007 as a spin-off research team from Uppsala University in Sweden. In the first years, air surveillance software was developed, as were many innovative innovations that their first customers found on the defense market. In 2013, Lifvendahl saw the widespread customization of smartphones and a great opportunity to bring the same technology used in defense drones to the cell phones in people's pockets.
"Smartphone companies invested a lot in camera technology, and that was a smart move," he recalls. "It was very difficult to find functions with a direct relationship with consumers in everyday use, and the camera was one of them because people wanted to document their lives."
“But they missed the point by focusing on megapixels and still images. The consumers wanted to express themselves in a nice way with videos, ”added the founder.
The next February, the Swedish founder took part in the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to measure the interest of the providers. Not surprisingly, many of the exhibitors were Chinese phone manufacturers who searched the conference for partners. They were immediately fascinated by Imint's solution and Lifvendahl returned home to optimize his software for smartphones.
"I have never experienced this open attitude to take a look at it so quickly, a clear signal that something is happening here with smartphones and cameras and especially with videos," said Lifvendahl.
Vidhance, Imint's video enhancement software suite, primarily for Android, was soon released. In search of growth capital, the founder took the startup audience to the Stockholm Stock Exchange at the end of 2015. The next year, Imint landed its first major order with Huawei, the Chinese giant for telecommunications equipment, which was aggressively catching up on smartphones at the time.
"It was a turning point for us because when we were able to work with Huawei, everyone else thought," Okay, these people know what they're doing, "the founder recalled." And that's where we just grew and grew. "
Working with Chinese customers
The competitiveness of Chinese phone manufacturers means that they can be easily sold with new technologies that can help them stand out. The downside is the intensity that comes with the competition. The Chinese tech industry is both respected and notorious for its fast pace. Slow movers can be shredded in a few months.
"In some aspects it is very similar to the US. It is very direct and very opportunistic," said Lifvendahl, reflecting on his experience with Chinese customers.You can receive an offer in the first or second meeting, e.g. B. "Okay, that's interesting if you can show that it works with our next product launch, which is due in three months. Would you sign a contract now? & # 39; ”
"This is a good site," he continued. “The disadvantage of a Swedish company is the demand for suppliers. They want us to be on site and offer support, which is difficult for a small Swedish company. So we have to be really efficient, make good tools and have good support systems. "
The fast pace also penetrates the development cycle of the telephone manufacturers, which is not always good for innovations, suggested Lifvendahl. They react to market trends, do not think ahead – what distinguishes Apple – or carry out appropriate market research.
Despite all the confusion inside, Lifvendahl said he was surprised that Chinese manufacturers "could release such high quality phones".
“You can launch a flagship, maybe take a weekend break, and then head for the next project next Monday, which will be released in three months. So there really is no time to plan or prepare. You just delve into a project, so there are many open questions that need to be resolved in four or five weeks. They try to tie hundreds of different parts together with fifty different suppliers. "
Imint is one of those companies that is successful in finding a niche that is difficult to crack. There is undoubtedly a competition that often comes from large Japanese and Chinese companies. But there is always a market for a smaller player who focuses on one thing and does it very well. The founder compares his company with a "small niche boutique in the corner, the hi-fi shop with expensive speakers". Its competitors, on the other hand, are the Walmarts with thick catalogs of imaging software.
The focused strategy enables Imint software to improve precision, reduce motion, track moving objects, automatically correct the horizon, reduce noise, and improve other aspects of video in real time – all through in-depth learning.
About three quarters of Imint's revenue comes from licensing its proprietary software that does these tricks. Some customers pay royalties for the number of devices that use Vidhance, while others opt for an annual flat fee. The rest of the revenue comes from licensing development tools or the SDK, as well as maintenance fees.
Imint is now delivering its software to 20 customers around the world, including the Chinese Big Four Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo as well as chip giants like Qualcomm and Mediatek. ByteDance has also signed a contract to bake Imint's software in Smartisan, which sold its core technology to the TikTok parent company last year. Imint is beginning to look beyond mobile phones for other devices that can benefit from high quality footage, from action cameras, consumer drones to law enforcement body cameras.
So far, the Swedish company has been immune to trade tensions between the United States and China, but Lifvendahl was worried when the two superpowers moved towards technological independence. Outsiders like them will find it more difficult to enter the two respective markets.
"We are in a small, neutral country, but we are also a small company, so we are not a strategic threat to anyone." We come in and help solve a puzzle, ”the founder assured.