Google Clips

Why Google's Self-Capturing Camera Isn't As Creepy As You Think

At Google's most recent hardware event, they launched several new products, including Google Clips. Google Clips is a lifestyle camera designed to capture "special moments." What's unique about it, however, is that you don't have to choose which moments are special as the camera does that for you. It factors in facial expressions, lighting conditions, and even framing to capture images it feels are both spontaneous and remarkable.

Google is marketing Google Clips to parents. The assumption is that parents will use it to document their children's day-to-day lives, which seems like a lofty goal as the market is somewhat cornered because, you know, smartphones. Plus, smartphones have a major edge: you're in control. The launch of Google Clips has spurred conflicting opinions. Is it okay to let a camera decide when it's appropriate to capture images of your child or is it a threat to privacy?

What EXACTLY Is Google Clips?

Google Clips is a square camera with a lens and a manual shutter button. Inside, you'll find a 12MP image sensor (good quality but not as good as most smartphones) with a 130-degree field of view, a 16GB internal storage device, a battery, and other electronic components that help the device run. Google Clips runs on battery, but battery life will vary based on usage. On average, it will last for three hours if you're actively using the camera or several days on stand-by

To use the camera, you will first, twist the lens clockwise to turn it on. Once on, it will immediately start looking for special moments. If it sees something interesting, it will snap bursts of images at 15fps for several seconds. The result is a GIF-like clip with no sound. Although images are combined to create clips, you'll still be able to see each frame individually, and you'll be able to save them as pictures. However, as the device lacks a screen, you won't be able to see the clips or images until you export them to your smartphone or computer. More on the exporting process later.

As for camera placement, you can set it on a surface, hold it like a digital camera, or clip it to something or someone using the included clip stand, depending on what you're trying to accomplish.

How Can You Retrieve Images & Clips?

All the clips and images captured by Google Clips are saved to the camera's internal memory device (16GB). You can only view images if you transfer them to your smartphone via the Google Clips app. Take note, however, that the app is not compatible with all Android devices yet. It currently works with Pixel phones and Samsung Galaxy S7 and S8 running Android Nougat (7.0 or later). The app also works on iPhones.

The transfer process is made possible via Wi-Fi direct. This means that you won't need to connect Google Clips to your home Wi-Fi because it is, by itself, a Wi-Fi hotspot. On Android devices, the app automatically connects via Wi-Fi direct so that you can instantly transfer photos wirelessly. If you're using an iPhone, you'll need to visit your Settings Menu first. From there, you can connect to your Google Clips' hotspot manually.

Once pictures are saved to your phone, you can share them on various social media platforms or transfer them to other storage devices, phones, or computers.

How Does Google Clips Make Decisions?

Although it comes with a manual shutter button, the camera is designed to self-capture images. So how does the decision-making process work?

Google Clips first asks itself, "Are there people in view?" If there are, it follows up with, "Are they familiar people?" It then takes into account their facial expressions. The camera will try to determine if the subject is happy, bored, smiling, rejoicing, etc. If the camera determines that the subject is showing an interesting expression, it will capture clips. And no, "happy" isn't the only expression considered interesting. One of Google Clips' goals is to give you a diverse selection of photos, so it looks for changes in expression and other factors. If the subject's facial expression changes, the camera will most likely find it interesting and will take a photo.

The camera also factors in variables such as lighting, framing, and clarity of the image. It times the images to avoid glares or dark spots and ensures that the frames are focused on the persons of interest. It also tries to avoid blurry pictures.

Google Clips' AI is also capable of learning. At first, it may take pictures of every person it sees, but over time, it will remember who it sees most often. The more often it sees someone, the more often it will take pictures of them. Unfortunately, you can't tell the camera who to capture and who to avoid.

It also tries not to give you the same types of photos over and over again. It will look for changes in expression, setting, lighting, and other factors to diversify its work.

Is Google Clips A Creepy Creeper?

Now that we know what Google Clips is and what it can do, it's time to talk privacy.

Google is a well-known contributor in the field of artificial intelligence. In fact, their contribution to the field is paramount. Proof to that is how much AI plays in the functionality of Google Clips, and the success of Nest, which is a Google subsidiary. However, Google is also a well-known data gatherer. From your browsing habits, YouTube preferences, and even the ads that you click, they like to learn about you. For the most part, the data gathered isn't overly sensitive. However, facial recognition is sensitive data. Should you give it up to Google?

We should be cautious, but there's no need to be afraid of Google Clips. Why? Two words: local processing. Unlike other Google-powered AIs that live in the cloud, Google Clips' AI lives locally. It doesn't need to transmit data to Google's servers to work. In fact, it doesn't even connect to Wi-Fi. It just works. Period.

However, there are two downsides to local processing. First, everything it knows about you is stored on the device. If you lose it, you'll have to start all over again, and you will lose the memories saved to the device.

Second, the price. Facial recognition, lighting optimization, and other smart processes performed by Google Clips require a tremendous amount of processing power, which raises the production cost. It's one of the reasons why Clips sells for $249. Yes, $249 for a simple camera that doesn't have a screen and doesn't take high-quality photos. So the question you should really be asking is, "Should you buy it?"

Should You Buy It?

You can take higher-quality photos with your phone. You can even record videos with it. Using Google Clips, you're limited to capturing a few seconds of motion clips a.k.a. a series of photos compiled into a GIF-like animation.

On the other hand, Google Clips can capture moments that you probably won't be able to capture with a smartphone. For example, as a parent, I know how difficult it is to capture a child's magical moments. One second the moment's there, but the second you pull out your phone, it's too late. With Google Clips constantly waiting for such moments, collecting precious memories of your child growing up will be much easier.

Personally, I consider Google Clips as one of the things I'd buy if I had the extra money to spend.

Google Clips is not yet available, but you can learn more about it and even join the waitlist by clicking the "Join Waitlist" button on Google's website.