ePhoto brings 'visual search' to Mac consumers

iPhoto and other similar digital imaging apps have gone a long way to make it easier for Mac users to store and organize their digital imagery. But up until now, if you've wanted a high-powered cataloging system, you've been left on your own -- unless you want to cough up money for expensive and complicated digital asset management software eVision LLC. may change that very soon with the release of its ePhoto software, however. Recently eVision spoke to MacCentral about the new product.

ePhoto will bring to the consumer visual search technology that's similar to what's being used right now on corporate systems like stock photo house Corbis Corp., or digital asset management company North Plains Systems Corp.'s Telescope. The software will be available on the Mac first and is being debuted at this week's Macworld Tokyo. ePhoto sports import, analysis, storage, indexing and search/retrieval functions, and will also be able to capture keyframes from video -- extending its functionality beyond just digital photos.

ePhoto is based on Java, and will be initially released for Mac OS X. eVision cofounder and vice president of research and development Cnu Sista told MacCentral that it's entirely feasible for ePhoto to come to Mac OS 9 as well, if the Java implementation in that operating system adds support for certain technology. Plans are afoot to bring ePhoto to Windows, too.

What makes ePhoto remarkable is its visual search technology. The software enables users to look for imagery based on how the image looks, rather than specific keywords which may be attached to it, file name, or creation date. Using the Query Pad feature, you can sketch a rough concept of what you're looking for. The search engine then compares colors, shapes and textures to what's in the catalog to find matching images.

Once you have a rough idea of what you're looking for, you can use Query Pad to refine your search by selecting an existing image and editing it with additional characteristics. You can use more traditional methods like keyword searching, too. You can also utilize ePhoto's Visual Vocabulary technology, too. Visual Vocabulary can be controlled automatically by ePhoto or assisted by the user, according to Sista. The technology examines the contents of your catalog and flags representative samples in the database. eVision director of business development Todd Lohenry explained that ePhoto is being released in three separate versions -- a basic consumer edition that will be free but limited to 750 photos; a prosumer version that will sport more features for an additional cost; and a full-blown professional version that will be higher-priced but fully featured. All of the software will be available as a download from the eVision Web site.

As a Java-based technology, the visual search engine behind ePhoto is very portable. Accordingly, eVision is offering eVe to other developers who want to incorporate the technology into their own solutions. Lohenry explained that a software development kit (SDK) is available for licensing and download from eVision's Web site.

"eVision is pleased to make this visual search technology available first and foremost to Mac users," Lohenry told MacCentral. "We're very excited about the platform and its potential." ePhoto is anticipated to be released during the second quarter of 2002. For more info, visit eVision's Web site.

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Peter Cohen

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