Will Apple's iPhone 5 be the only camera you'll ever need?

By Jonny Evans

By the time the product launches people will expect the next Apple [AAPL] iPhone 5 to end disease, salve world hunger and bring peace in our times, but away from these halcyon expectations it seems a future Apple smartphone king will be the very best digital camera you've ever had. (Also with super-fast Wi-Fi, the latest claims, uh, claim.)

[ABOVE: The obligatory promo video for the new tech Apple's allegedly been looking at.]

Snap happy

This morning's report from the 'Rumor That Won't Die' dept., claims Apple may adopt a super-advanced image capture technology, capable of capturing images instantly and of grabbing all available light. Expect fantastic detail and an end to that annoying wait for the sensor to capture images.

If this doesn't sound too exciting, spare a thought for the plight of pro analog photographers switching to digital. These people hate the delay you encounter between pressing the button and the image capture taking place. They hate it because that brief delay can make the difference between taking an iconic and an average shot when working at live events -- footballers and music gods won't stand still to help their photographer friends.

What's the deal? Here's the short version: An upcoming Apple book claims Steve Jobs met with Lytro's CEO to talk about a new tech called the light field camera. This tech was declared 'Innovation of the Year' by Popular Science in 2011.

[ABOVE: A review of Lytro's own camera device.]


-- Focusing takes place after you click the shutter, not before (that wait accounts for the delay when snapping digitally).

-- 8x zoom lens

-- An array of micro lenses fractures the image into thousands of light particles, weaving this data together into a single image file.

-- When it comes to the edit, you can even move the focal point between as close as 3.5 inches all the way to infinity.

-- You can create moving images too, including 3D images.

-- Once you decide on the final shot, images are saved as JPEG's.

Will we see this technology appear within a future iPhone?

I think it will require a solution be found to the challenge of miniaturization. Take a look at the company's existing image capture device (above) and you'll see it is relatively long, in order to accommodate those micro lenses. I imagine the challenge will be to make these things smaller and more compact.

If this challenge is realised, then many photographers may breathe a sigh of relief at being unshackled from the annoying restraints of waiting for digital camera image capture focusing. Once the tech hits the pro market, you can also expect new high standards in the live event shots you see online and in print.


[ABOVE: Apple's iPhones are the leading smartphones used to capture and share images via the popular Flickr service.]

A camera for the rest of us

Should the technical challenges be resolved, then Apple will be playing to its strengths. Shuffle across to Flickr and you'll see the iPhone 4 has become the most popular camera used by that community.

When it comes to cameraphones, Apple's iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS account for first, second, third and fourth place as the most popular devices used within that community. Despite the hype, you'll also see the HTC Evo 4G on the list, rather than anything else.

What does this prove? The usual thing: Not only does Apple offer the technology you want (using an 8-megapixel Sony CCD inside iPhone 4S), but does so in a way people actually like to use. That's critical, reflecting the company's focus on the user, rather than on technology for its own sake. You can pack superior technology into any device you want, but this is meaningless if people don't actually use that solution.

[ABOVE: Pre-release of the iPhone 4S, Annie Leibowitz praised Apple's iPhone as her favorite casual camera.]

Get yourself connected

In future, Apple will make it even easier to perform actions such as sharing images via Flickr, Facebook or iCloud, introducing a much faster Wi-Fi standard inside its products. AppleInsider tells us the company plans to implement 802.11ac 5G Gigabit Wi-Fi inside its products during 2012.

Equipped with a better range, lower power demands and more, this standard is two to four times faster than the current 802.11n standard, and while you'll need compatible Wi-Fi routers to support the new higher speeds, these are coming on stream at this time, and, once they arrive, Apple's devices will be ready.

With the iPhone 5 expected to also support the high mobile bandwidth LTE standard (which is expected to be far more widely deployed by the end of the year), consumers will be better equipped than ever to explore photography as a hobby; pro-users meanwhile will potentially be able to engage in some of their assignments using only an iPhone. Now, that has to be exciting, right?

The small print? This new technology may not appear within the next iteration of the phone, and/or Apple may opt for another solution. As with all Apple rumors, you shouldn't expect too much too fast.

Also read: The crazy Apple rumor guide to iPhone 5.

Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when these items are published here first on Computerworld.  

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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