What is the most used app on smartphones? No, it’s not Google search or even the Web browser and it’s definitely not Facebook. Instead, that would be the virtual keyboard that use to enter anything from text message to email to even passwords. Taking advantage of that fact, Microsoft is now rolling out a new feature on the Android beta version of SwiftKey that many will liken to Apple’s animojis. That may be true to a superficial level because the one thing SwiftKey can do that animojis can’t is to be everywhen and on almost every phone.
Apple’s animoji innovation was largely thanks to the iPhone X’s sophisticated front-facing sensors. While some high-end Android phones have almost the same hardware, it remains inaccessible to the masses. Just like what Google does with photography on its Pixel phones, Microsoft resorted to AI and machine learning to compensate for the lack of hardware.
Called Puppets, the SwiftKey version allows users to transfer their facial expressions to a panda, a cat, a dog, owl, or even a dinosaur. Instead of using 3D depth sensing technologies, however, SwiftKey used machine learning to identify expressions in real time. Users can then record a 30-second message to share with friends and family or the Internet at large.
This means that any phone can potentially support Puppets. Even better, since the feature is built into the keyboard itself, it can be used with any messaging app that supports sending video messages. No need to wait for those apps to gain such features.
At the moment, it’s only available on Android and in the beta version of SwiftKey. No word yet on when or if it will roll out to iOS.