AI-generated anime selfies propel beauty app to top in Japan
By Grace Huang and Jane Zhang/Bloomberg
The ability to turn a user’s selfie into an anime character has rocketed an app developed by Meitu Inc (美圖) to the top of Japan’s download rankings in the past week, marking a huge jump in the Hong Kong-based firm’s shares spurred.
Meitu has surged more than 50 percent in recent weeks as its app reached the top of Apple Inc’s free iPhone downloads chart and No. 2 on Android’s Google Play in Japan, data.ai figures showed.
Although not new to the Japanese market, the main innovation in the beauty application was the addition of the option to turn a photo into an anime-style picture using artificial intelligence (AI).
Meitu has been working on AI photo tools since 2017, and its work has begun to bear fruit with the anime-style selfies, which hit the market in China on Nov. 24 and three days later globally, Meitu CEO Wu Xinhong (吳欣鴻), said .
Since last week, the Meitu app has been among the top three most downloaded apps on Apple’s App Store in countries including the US, Brazil, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Wu said.
Global downloads rose 79 percent in the week starting November 28, data.ai figures showed.
“We’re seeing an explosion of AI-generated content and its huge potential,” Wu said. “This is an unprecedented opportunity for us, a technological revolution.”
The use of AI to generate images has increased in popularity this year with the introduction of text-to-image systems such as Midjourney and OpenAI’s Dall-E. The technology is not without controversy, but its appeal and accessibility have helped it spread.
Meitu’s approach differs in applying a style transfer to an existing image. The company also just introduced the option to add subtle animations — like falling cherry blossom petals — to its AI-generated anime avatars.
Japan proved an avid adopter of this new trend.
Professor Fujio Toriumi of the University of Tokyo said that 40 percent of the hashtagged AI-generated images on Twitter since June have come from the country.
Torumi, whose work includes studying information sharing on Twitter after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, partnered with Nikkei Inc to analyze the data.
“Japan has a culture of sharing manga on Twitter,” Toriumi said, adding that the novelty of using AI to generate similar images is “both a threat and a surprise” to that established audience, but many accept it out of curiosity.
“For most people it’s a one-shot, but I think some will continue to use it in unique ways,” Toriumi said.
At its peak, the AI art fascination generated nearly 80,000 Twitter posts a day from Japan, although the current flow is about one-third of that, Toriumi said.
Still, he expects more new uses in the future, including AI-generated fashion models for clothing companies that sell gear online.
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