Polar Rose, a Swedish-based facial recognition startup launched in summer 2007, is shutting down its consumer-facing service that allowed users to tag people in photos anywhere on the Web. Last spring, the innovative company introduced facial recognition to popular photo-sharing site Flickr by way of a third-party browser plugin. With the plugin installed, Polar Rose users could tag their Flickr photos with the names of their Facebook contacts and then alert those friends on Facebook that they had been tagged. It also organized Flickr photos into pages by person and could recognize people automatically in later uploads.
Unfortunately, this and all other end user-focused services are being terminated as the company switches its focus to its series of facial recognition products. Says Polar Rose's Thijs Stalenhoef, the service was "fun while it lasted."
Polar Rose Says Goodbye to End Users, Hello to Products
According to Stalenhoef, the response to the facial recognition products introduced during the Mobile World Congress last February has been "phenomenal." These include the company's flagship FaceCloud server platform, mobile face recognition library FaceLib and FaceCore, a core face detection and recognition module for deep integration and other use-cases.
Unfortunately, the company has not been able to focus on the service at polarrose.com due to the popularity of these back-end applications and products. The Polar Rose service hasn't seen a new release in ages and support requests on GetSatisfaction have basically been ignored. "The site, as it stands today, is not up to the standard we set for it when we launched," admits Stalenhoef.
But instead of bringing on new staff to help better manage the consumer service, the company has decided to shut it down entirely. The company will close the service on PolarRose.com on Sept. 6, 2010 at which point all user accounts and corresponding data, including images downloaded from Facebook and Flickr, will be deleted. The tags sent to Flickr and Facebook, however, will remain in place.
Competition for End Users Ramped Up Over the Years
It's a shame to see such a compelling and interesting service disappear, but Polar Rose has had stiff competition in the consumer space as of late. Google introduced facial recognition functionality into its Picasa photo-sharing service, a Flickr competitor. Windows Live Essentials introduced facial recognition into its latest release. Also, Face.com, a facial recognition technology company, introduced multiple Facebook apps in 2009, including Photo Finder, a facial scanning service for tagging unidentified photos of Facebook friends, and later Photo Tagger, an app which automates the tagging process. And Facebook, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently revealed, hosts five to six times more photos than all competing photo-sharing services combined.
Meanwhile, Polar Rose may be finding its niche as the technology behind the next great facial recognition service or application. For example, last summer it partnered with Swedish software and design company The Astonishing Tribe to create an augmented reality concept application called Augmented ID, which employed Polar Rose's facial recognition technology in an app that recognized people through a mobile phone's camera in real time. Earlier this year, the app was re-branded as Recognizr and the company announced plans to ship the app as an Android application in a matter of months. That deadline, sadly, has since come and gone.
As for Polar Rose, it's no longer alone in the licensing game, either, when it comes to facial recognition technology. Rival Face.com launched APIs (tools that allow developers to incorporate the technology into their own applications) back in May of this year. These APIs, free during the early alpha stage of testing, have already been used to power marketing campaigns by Orbit gum and Axe deodorant. Future plans could involve charges - no word yet on that. In any event, despite losing the end user service at PolarRose.com, having multiple companies vying for dominance in the facial recognition space will ultimately be a win for consumers - at least those who aren't creeped out about the technology in the first place.