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iOS 16's Photo Editing Tool for iPhone Makes Erasing Objects Feel Like Magic

Simply tap and hold to remove people, pets or other items from your iPhone photos.

A photo of a cat on an iPhone
With iOS 16, removing items from photos is now easier than ever.
Celso Bulgatti/CNET

This story is part of Focal Point iPhone 2022, CNET's collection of news, tips and advice around Apple's most popular product.

The new iOS 16 software for all compatible iPhones was officially released to the public today, five days after the company launched its new iPhone 14 line. Along with the many cool new features included in today iOS 16's release comes one of the easiest ways to edit photos that I've ever seen.

The feature doesn't have an official name, but here's how it works: You tap and hold on a photo to separate a picture's subject, like a person, from the background. And if you keep holding, you can then "lift" the cutout from the photo and drag it into another app to post, share or make a collage, for example.

Technically, the tap-and-lift photo feature is part of Visual Look Up, which was 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 lift that object out of a photo or PDF by doing nothing more than tapping and holding.

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

Apple

Robby Walker, Apple senior director of Siri Language and Technologies, demonstrated during WWDC the new tap-and-lift tool on a photo of a French bulldog. The dog was "cut out" of the photo and then dragged and dropped into the text field of a message.

"It feels like magic," Walker said.

Sometimes Apple overuses the word "magic," but this tool does seem impressive. Walker was quick to point out that the effect was the result of an advanced machine-learning model, which is accelerated by core 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 thrills me to no end. Many times new phone features need to be revolutionary or solve a serious problem. I guess you could say that the tap-and-hold tool solves the problem of removing the background of a photo, which to at least some could be a serious matter.

I couldn't help notice the similarity to another photo feature in iOS 16. On the lock screen, the photo editor separates the foreground subject from the background of the photo used for your wallpaper. This makes it so lock screen elements like the time and date can be layered behind the subject of your wallpaper but in front of the photo's background. It makes it look like the cover of a magazine.

I tried the new Visual Look Up feature in the public beta for iOS 16. I'm still impressed how quickly and reliably it works.