iOS 16 Photo Tool for iPhone removes image backgrounds with just a tap

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

If you have an iPhone running iOS 16, you must try one of the best new features. The tool doesn’t have an official name, but it lets you separate the subject of a photo, such as a person, from the background. All you have to do is tap and hold on a photo to make it work. If you continue to hold, you can ‘lift’ the crop of the photo and drag it into another app to post, share, or make a collage, for example.

iOS 16 debuted alongside the iPhone 14 line with some cool new features. Before iOS 16, if I wanted to remove the background from a photo, I had to use an app like Adobe Photoshop. But what’s great about this tool is that it’s built right into iOS 16, eliminating the need to download a dedicated app or create an account.

Technically, the tap-and-lift photo feature is part of Visual Look Up, which 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 extract that object from a photo or PDF by doing nothing but tap and hold.

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


Robby Walker, senior director of Siri Language and Technologies at Apple, first demonstrated the new tap-and-lift tool at WWDC. He had a picture of a French bulldog and was tapping and holding the dog. Walker dragged the dog’s “cutout” from the photo into the text field of a text message.

“It feels like magic,” Walker said.

Sometimes Apple overuses the word “magic”, but this tool seems 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.

The knowledge of the amount of processing and machine learning it takes to cut a dog out of a photo excites me immensely. Often new phone features have 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 from a photo, which could be a serious matter for some.

I couldn’t help noticing the similarity to another photo feature in iOS 16. On the lock screen, the photo editor separates the subject in the foreground from the background of the photo from your background. This allows lock screen elements such as the time and date to be placed behind the subject of your wallpaper, but before the background of the photo. It gives the lock screen a slick magazine cover ovibe.

I’ve used the new Visual Look Up feature many times now and I’m still impressed with how fast and reliable it works.