The Google Pixel 6a may have been a relatively unsung part of Google I/O 2022, but one of its new camera features shows that Google clearly has Photoshop-rivaling ambitions.
We've seen its nifty Magic Eraser tool, which lets you quickly remove unwanted people or objects from a photo, previously on the Google Pixel 6. But now Google has announced that the tool is getting a new feature that'll let you change the color of objects in your photos with a tap.
The example Google gave at Google I/O 2022 was a beach photo with a garish, green icebox in the background. Rather than removing the object and ruining your composition, the enhanced Magic Eraser instead made the object's color and shading blend in naturally with the whole scene.
This might seem like a minor update, but it means that one tool now lets you do some pretty major photo edits – ones that a few years ago would have involved dabbling with masks and eyedropper tools – with one tap. And that means Magic Eraser, and its cousins Face Unblur and Motion Mode, and rapidly turning into Photoshop who people who don't like, or need, real Photoshop.
The updated Magic Eraser tool will also no doubt spark some 'photography vs digital art' debates, ones that prospective Pixel 6a owners likely won't care about. For traditionalists, the line between the two is crossed when you start adding light or elements to a scene that weren't there at the point of capture – removing objects is one thing, but letting AI and its digital paint brush loose on your snaps is quite another.
But what Google is doing is clearly aimed at the point-and-shoot crowd. The Magic Eraser is a next-generation healing brush, one that outstrips rivals like Snapseed and PhotoShop – and that 'healing' now includes the color palette of your photos.
Google has taken its aim even further by recently adding Magic Eraser to Google Photos for anyone who subscribes to its Google One plans. This make Magic Eraser no longer a Pixel phone exclusive, and iPhone users can join in the fun.
Google vs Adobe
This means Photoshop is something of an arm's race with built-in tools like Google's Magic Eraser, which explains why Adobe recently hired the person who was the driving force behind Google's Pixel phones, Marc Levoy.
In a fascinating recent chat with Adobe's own Life blog (opens in new tab), Levoy revealed that Adobe is working on a "universal camera app" that'll have some of the computational "sorcery" that we saw in those early Pixel phones.
But Adobe is actually taking the opposite approach to Google's Magic Eraser. Levoy said that while his role at Google was to "democratize good photography", his goal at Adobe is instead to "democratize creative photography". And that means "marrying pro controls to computational photography image processing pipelines".
Instead, Google's enhanced Magic Eraser falls firmly into that "democratizing good photography" camp, and it's something that the tool is becoming increasingly adept at. Keen photographers often spend hours pondering the color palette of a scene or waiting for an opportune moment, but with Magic Eraser you'll soon be able to do it with a tap. And that's likely just the start of its talents.
Which weapon is mightier, the Magic Eraser or Photoshop? It depends which side of the photographic fence you're on, but there's no doubt that Google is winning the point-and-shoot side of the battle.