Google's new photo editing feature, "Magic Eraser," is a very intuitive and good tool but isn't groundbreaking, some experts say, adding that a slew of apps and other phones have similar capabilities. However, they say that If Google is serious about its hardware advancements, then it should keep the feature exclusive to the Pixel 6 lineup and future phones, at least for some time.
The new feature was a long time coming. First announced back in 2017, Magic Eraser will edit out unwanted background images using the power of Google's in-house developed chip, Tensor, and its AI-processing capabilities. Tensor will first scan for any objects or people in the background of an image (to be removed) that has been taken on a Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro or one that has been uploaded. Alternatively, you can also manually highlight or circle objects to help Tensor identify what needs to be removed. This feature could also be used for some images in the foreground of a photo.
Android Central's Ara Wagoner and Nick Sutrich both say in their reviews of the phones that the feature is compelling. Sutrich further states that the "feature isn't perfect, but it's a massive step in the right direction and a great example of how AI can simplify or enable tasks not otherwise possible."
Mishaal Rahman, senior technical editor at Esper and former editor-in-chief of XDA Developers, agrees in an interview noting that the feature's results aren't perfect and "not representative of what Google teased four years ago." But, he says they're "more than passable at a glance, especially when viewed on tiny smartphone screens, and that's more than enough for most people."
Right now, the feature is exclusive to the Pixel 6 lineup, which are among the best Android devices. However, Rahman questioned in a tweet how long it would be before Google decides to offer Magic Eraser as a premium feature for all Google One subscribers. Google One is a subscription service developed by Google that offers expanded cloud storage along with other premium features.
So how long before Google offers Magic Eraser as a premium feature for all Google One subscribers?So how long before Google offers Magic Eraser as a premium feature for all Google One subscribers?— Mishaal Rahman (@MishaalRahman) October 28, 2021October 28, 2021
Magic Eraser serves as a key differentiator between the Pixel 6 lineup and other Android devices
And while Rahman admits it's not within his purview to know Google's marketing plans, he says if Google is serious about the Pixel hardware, "as they say they now are, then they should keep this feature exclusive to the Pixel 6."
By doing this, Rahman explains that it would serve as a key differentiator between the Pixel 6 lineup and other devices.
"If Magic Eraser were to be made available to other devices through, say, a Google One subscription, then users would not be able to factor in the feature when making a phone comparison before a purchase," he says
For example, suppose someone were to consider the Samsung Galaxy S21 versus the Pixel 6. In that case, Rahman says there's more value in purchasing the latter because the user would have exclusive access to the Magic Eraser feature.
"This is even more true when another Android device is thrown into the mix, as, unlike Samsung, most other Android device makers don't offer a comparable feature. Yet if Google were to make Magic Eraser available to all users with a Google One plan, then this wouldn't even be a consideration," he says.
Jitesh Ubrani, IDC's research manager of worldwide device trackers, adds to Rahman's point by indicating in an interview that of all the latest changes to the Pixel lineup, Magic Eraser is one that is "demonstrable and highly relatable to consumers."
"Everyone has taken a picture that they wish could be made better by erasing a portion of it," he says. "Moreover, it's a unique feature that most other smartphones don't have at the moment, and this truly sets the Pixel apart from the rest of the pack."
Ubrani says he can see Google keeping the feature exclusive to the phones but struggles to see it becoming part of the Google One subscription service despite it being a great feature.
And while Anshel Sag, senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, agrees, he notes that if Google were to differentiate the Pixel divice with exclusive features it would have to be a package.
"I don't think a single feature would accomplish [Google's seriousness about the Pixel hardware] effectively, it would need to be a suite of features," he says.
Avi Greengart, president and lead analyst at Techsponential, says that the feature is a Pixel 6 lineup exclusive for now, and that's partly because of the reliance on Tensor; however, this could change in the future.
"Google has many "Pixel first" features that debut on the Pixel before being integrated into general Android releases in the future. Magic Eraser is likely to stay a Pixel exclusive longer because of the reliance on Google's Tensor silicon," he says. "However, Tensor does not have dramatically better AI capabilities than top-of-the-line Qualcomm chipsets today, so this really may be more of a product differentiation move than a technical limitation."
Other manufacturers are likely to perfect their hardware to copycat Magic Eraser
Currently, Samsung is the only major manufacturer that offers a similar feature to Magic Eraser called "Object Eraser," but that feature isn't nearly as good as Google's version, and that's partly because the latter is a result of the Tensor chip.
Ubrani says that it's very likely that with Samsung's One UI 4, there is an opportunity for improvements and upgrades to Object Eraser, but doesn't see it surpassing the success Google has had with the feature.
"Google's primary advantage is the large collection of pictures that it has accumulated thanks to Google Photos. The pool of data that Google applies its machine learning algorithms to is far larger and superior to that of any other smartphone maker. That will remain the key ingredient behind Magic Eraser's success," he says.
Sag agrees and goes as far as to say that he would expect Samsung to try and partner with Adobe to implement a better version of Object Eraser rather than trying to replicate Google's capability, which "comes from its uniquely trained AI models and fast inference performance."
"Nobody has the amount of image data or quality image algorithms that Google does to make [Magic Eraser] possible. Also, it will only get smarter as more users start using it, which in mind could help Google continue to lead the competition even if they do implement similar capabilities," he says.
More users are porting Magic Eraser's capabilities
More recently, Rahman revealed that a modded APK file is making its rounds that enables Magic Eraser on any compatible Android device. After being installed, this APK tricks your Android phone into thinking that you're using a Pixel 6.
AC's Andrew Myrick tested this out on a Pixel 5 running Android 12, and it actually works pretty well. However, he says the final results are slightly different from what is experienced on the Pixel 6, mainly because Google Photos isn't relying on the Tensor chip.
Rahman notes that the APK file is actually a version of the application delivered only to the Pixel 6 but which is extracted from the device and uploaded online for others to download.
"While the image processing is rather slow on many devices, suggesting that Magic Eraser is at least partly accelerated by the Tensor chip in the Pixel 6, it does end up working," he says. "I think it's clear that Magic Eraser does not require the Tensor chip to function."
Leaker and technology expert Ishan Agarwal says in an interview that Google Agarwal notes that Google, for the most part, has always kept its camera technology to itself, and as a result, APKs have always appeared.
"This usually happens with every feature Google brings to their Google Camera app for Pixel phones. Downloading modded APKs used to be something a lot of people used to do as their phones lacked the great Pixel-quality Night Mode or better HDR algorithm," he says.
"Nowadays we see the brands bring those features themselves and hence there hasn't been the need to do the same in a while. I doubt many would even know or care enough to know about the feature until they've been introduced to a phone that does have it, so I don't see it being a motivator for Google to make the feature more widely available."
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Shruti Shekar is Android Central's managing editor. She was born in India, brought up in Singapore, but now lives in Toronto and couldn't be happier. She started her journalism career as a political reporter in Ottawa, Canada's capital, and then made her foray into tech journalism at MobileSyrup and most recently at Yahoo Finance Canada. When work isn't on her mind, she loves working out, reading thrillers, watching the Raptors, and planning what she's going to eat the next day.