While the tech blogosphere commences the self flagellation over getting it wrong on the whole “Apple needs a cheap iPhone and that’s why it is going to release the iPhone 5c” — with their whole developing markets yadda, yadda, thrown completely under the bus by the company they incorrectly thought they could figure out — one of the biggest pieces of news to come out of yesterday’s iPhone event is being largely overlooked. Sure, Apple once again zigging on price and intention where everyone and the stock market thought they would/could/should zag is a story. But it is mostly one of lots of pretty colors and little surprise to anyone paying attention long enough to know that the only good guess when it comes to Apple’s future plans is to not guess at all.
The real story, in my opinion, is the one worth a thousand words on each of those aforementioned tech blogs but not getting near that sort of coverage — the new camera in the iPhone 5S. The camera? Yes, the camera.
The camera in the iPhone 5S basically moved the needle two years ahead of the entire camera industry. Not just smart phone cameras — all cameras. There is a well known photography adage that states “the best camera is the one that’s with you”. Well, if you have an iPhone 5S that statement will remain true no matter what other camera you may have available. This is largely because the new 64bit processor means that they have all the raw processing power they need to be able to execute features and techniques that not even the most expensive professional SLR cameras can deliver.
And, what is interesting and absolutely marvelous about what Apple is doing here is that, when approaching how to make the best camera available today (and, I feel the need to stress, not just the best phone camera), they knew that did not mean specs. That it was not about who had the most megapixels, or biggest lens, or largest sensor. They know that none of that, at the end of the day matters. What mattered, in fact, was the one thing that, in a race to equate more megapixels with “better”, even most of the camera industry had too long overlooked. Apple focussed solely on how they could use that massive and fast 64bit processor combined with industry first features and ideas to do one thing — give you the best looking photos. And, if you can get that right when you take the photo, you don’t need a bunch of software to “fix it in post”. It’s all about capture.
So, what did they do?
First, instead of packing in more megapixels they packed in a sensor that delivered bigger pixels. Because, as Phil Schiller so pointedly stated, Bigger pixels = better picture. Bigger pixels mean more light, better range of color, and less noise.
Second, before you even take the picture it automatically sets the white balance, exposure, creates a dynamic local tone map, and matrix metering autofocus for fifteen focus zones (a feature not even all dSLRs have). Then, once you take the shot it actually takes three and then analyzes each in real time for which is the sharpest and that is the one you see.
Third, the new True Tone Flash. Now, I want you to understand something, there are photographers who spend thousands of dollars on flash and lighting equipment alone to achieve what this flash can do. It combines both a cool white and warm amber LED and, in real time analyzes the color of the surrounding and fires the flash to suit, thus giving you the best possible flash for that environment (over 1000 possible color variations). No other flash in any camera ever produced can do this. Let that sink in.
Next, auto image stabilization that, in real time, analyzes those multiple photos it takes with each shot and then — if they are all a bit blurry from movement or shaking, selects the sharpest portions of each image and combines them into the best possible picture.
Throw in burst mode at ten frames per second with the added bonus of allowing the camera to select the best of the shots based on a dozen variables, slow motion ability in the video shots (which captures at HD, 720p, 120 fps), and the fact you wont have to spend a thousand dollars on some dSLR that would only get you half of these features because the rest are world first and not available in any other camera, and you know what you have?
Disruption. Apple just put the point and shoot camera industry (and some of the “Pro-summer” dSLR one) out of business.
You see, for any camera manufacturer to give you many of those same features would mean they would have to build (or buy) a low-power, super fast, 64bit processor to build into their cameras and then write the software to deliver these things. In other words — it will not happen. Ever. They don’t have the resources. And, anyone who has not yet seen the writing on the wall in that industry will surely have to see it now.
The sad thing is that they will be likely left wondering what happened, like so many other industries Apple has disrupted before. They will be asking themselves why people no longer valued megapixels and fancy lenses. Or why they can’t seem to sell any of those thousand dollar dSLRs. They will think it is because Apple is so big and powerful, or the giant pile of cash, or the innovation they brought to the table. Or they will think that the consumer was “satisfied” with phone photos. That they chose the ease, convenience, and economy of not having to carry a “real” camera around. They will point the finger everywhere but at the truth…
People just wanted great photos and the iPhone 5S delivered that.