As has become the norm for new iPhone releases, the iPhone XS barely had the opportunity to fill store shelves before it was tagged with a supposed “-gate” scandal — this time, Beautygate. Now Apple says iOS 12.1 will fix the “bug” that smoothed out details in some selfies, leaving users’ skin looking unnaturally blurry.
Beautygate’s root cause was fairly simple: A new iPhone XS camera feature called Smart HDR uses multiple exposures to create a composite image, a process that sometimes reduces color detail. But Apple has confirmed to the Verge that the feature wasn’t working as intended on the front camera: It was sometimes choosing a blurrier base frame for its compositing process, leading to softer-looking images.
The “Beautygate” name came about because the softer images resembled results from automatic photo processing apps that have been popular in recent years, particularly in Asia. Beauty apps and photo filters could use a similar smoothing process to eliminate facial blemishes and blotches without requiring the user to manually touch up spots, resulting in selfies that looked similar to wearing makeup.
While some camera makers might have left the softer results untouched, Apple’s photographic track record and independent app developer analysis strongly suggested that the aggressive photo processing — regardless of its benefit under some circumstances — was unintentional. The remedy in iOS 12.1 will apparently select the sharpest base frame for selfies, leading to added detail in images shot with the front-facing camera.
Whether that change ultimately produces “better” overall photos could be up for discussion; we’ll have to wait until iOS 12.1 is finalized to know for sure. A beta version of iOS 12.1 is currently available to developers and the public, with an expected release date within the next several weeks, most likely at or shortly after Apple’s October 30 “more in the making” media event.