iOS 16’s Hidden Photo Tool Is Like Photoshop for Your iPhone

This story is part Focal Point iPhone 2023CNET’s collection of news, tips and advice on Apple’s most popular product.

If you have a working iPhone iOS16, you have to try one of the best new features. The tool does not have an official name, but allows you to separate the subject of an image, such as a person, from the background. All you have to do is long press on a photo to make it work. If you continue to hold, you can then “lift” the cutout from the photo and drag it into another app to post, share, or make a collage, for example.

iOS 16 debuted alongside iPhone 14 line with a number of exciting new features. Before iOS 16, if I wanted to remove the background from a photo, I had to use an app like Adobe Photoshop. But what’s great about this tool is that it’s built right into iOS 16, eliminating the need to download a special app or create an account.

Technically, the tap-and-lift photo feature is part of Visual Look Up, which first launched with iOS 15 and can recognize objects in your photos such as plants, food, landmarks and even pets. In iOS 16, Visual Look Up lets you remove that object from a photo or PDF by doing nothing more than press and hold.

During WWDC, Apple showed someone tapping and holding the dog in a photo to lift it from the background and share a message.


Robby Walker, Apple’s Senior Director of Siri Language and Technologies, first introduced the new tap-and-lift tool during WWDC. He had a picture of a French Bulldog and was slapping and holding the dog. Walker dragged the dog “cutout” from the photo and into the text field of a text message.

“It’s like magic,” Walker said.

Sometimes Apple overuses the word “magic”, but this tool sounds impressive. Walker was quick to point out that the effect was the result of an advanced machine learning model, which is accelerated by basic machine learning and Apple’s neural engine to perform 40 billion operations in a second.

Knowing the amount of processing and machine learning required to cut a dog out of a photo delights me to no end. Often, new phone features must be revolutionary or solve a serious problem. I guess you could say that the press and hold tool solves the problem of removing the background from a photo, which, at least for some, could be serious business.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarity to another iOS 16 photo feature. On the lock screen, the photo editor separates the foreground subject from the background of the photo of your wallpaper. So lock screen elements like time and date can be layered behind your wallpaper subject but in front of the photo background. It gives the lock screen a ovibe smooth magazine cover.

I’ve used the new Visual Look Up feature several times and I’m always impressed with how fast and reliable it works.

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