Opinion: Animojis Are the Most Exciting New Feature of the iPhone X

“What is this stupid feature?” “There are people starving around the world and they are making little animated faces?”  “What a waste of time!” These are just a small sampling of the comments I heard while the new Animojis were demoed at Apple's fall iPhone announcement. Some people may agree with that, and it may look like a silly or frivolous little feature, but I think it’s an impressive demonstration of the progress technology, as well as an exciting new beginning of a whole new range of creative expression and art that we are only beginning to see.

Related: Apple’s New Product Lineup—and Why It Matters

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If you didn’t see the demo during the iPhone announcement or aren’t familiar with the new feature, it shows the iPhone tracking the user’s facial expressions in real time and mapping them onto one of 12 animated emoji characters, such as a chicken, fox, or robot.

It was only 2006 when the movie Polar Express came out, and they used a similar technique to do motion capture of facial expressions. Except they reportedly used 72 cameras and 152 facial markers to capture the facial performance. The filmmakers would record the facial expressions in advance, and then map and render it onto the computer animation afterward—a time consuming process. It likely cost millions of dollars in order to do just the facial motion capture and animation for Polar Express, and now you can do virtually the same thing in real time on your iPhone X.

To me, the most exciting thing about this technology is that it potentially exposes millions of people, relatively inexpensively, to a technologically enabled form of artistic and creative expression that only ten years ago would have cost tens of millions of dollars, and 25 years ago would have been impossible. As one insightful Hacker News commenter put it: “[L]ook at what's really going on there: real time near-Pixar-grade facial expressions.... Someone's going to build a toolkit that lets kids make their own CG movies with friends acting out all the roles.” I can’t wait to see the developments that come from this; I believe it really is just the beginning of what’s to come.

It’s true that right now it’s only facial motion capture instead of full body motion capture and it's limited to the 12 pre-defined Animojis, so it’s not like people in their basement will be recreating The Lord of the Rings or Polar Express. But even as it is now, I’m excited to see what people come up with once it’s opened up to developers. Over the next few years I think we’ll see some terrific examples of art and creative expression that were recently totally inaccessible to anyone without tremendous personnel, technological, and financial resources.

As an aside, another article outlines how the processing capability available today for $1,000 in an iPhone X would have “cost 150 trillion of today’s dollars, taken up 100 billion square meters of floor space, and drawn 150 terawatts of power—30 times the world's current generating capacity” in 1957.

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Raphael Burnes is the CTO of iPhone Life magazine.