Get Ready For A Photo App Explosion With iOS 5

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At this point, it’s already clear that the iPhone has become the camera many people use on a daily basis. The iPhone 4 is now by far the most popular camera on Flickr (and that’s true even though it’s being undercounted — likely drastically). And apps like Instagram, Hipstamatic, and Camera+ are exploding in usage, despite being iPhone-only. But some upcoming changes in iOS 5 point to an even brighter future for the iPhone as a camera. We’re likely to see an explosion of photo apps as a result.

Specifically, iOS 5 will include Core Image. This was previously announced at WWDC, but the current beta builds going around now point in the direction of what this should mean. With the latest beta (version 5), a ton of effects have been added. Last week, BGR posted the iOS 5 beta 5 changelog. Among the bullet points:

Several filters have been added since beta 1. The current list now includes the following filters: CIAdditionCompositing, CIAffineTransform, CICheckerboardGenerator, CIColorBlendMode, CIColorBurnBlendMode, CIColorControls, CIColorCube, CIColorDodgeBlendMode, CIColorInvert,CIColorMatrix, CIColorMonochrome, CIConstantColorGenerator, CICrop, CIDarkenBlendMode, CIDifferenceBlendMode, CIExclusionBlendMode, CIExposureAdjust, CIFalseColor, CIGammaAdjust,CIGaussianGradient, CIHardLightBlendMode, CIHighlightShadowAdjust, CIHueAdjust, CIHueBlendMode, CILightenBlendMode, CILinearGradient, CILuminosityBlendMode,CIMaximumCompositing, CIMinimumCompositing, CIMultiplyBlendMode, CIMultiplyCompositing, CIOverlayBlendMode, CIRadialGradient, CISaturationBlendMode, CIScreenBlendMode,CISepiaTone, CISoftLightBlendMode, CISourceAtopCompositing, CISourceInCompositing, CISourceOutCompositing, CISourceOverCompositing, CIStraightenFilter, CIStripesGenerator,CITemperatureAndTint, CIToneCurve, CIVibrance, CIVignette, and CIWhitePointAdjust.

“CI” obviously stands for “Core Image” and the part after that explains what many of the effects mean and/or do. All iOS 5 developers will now have access to many of these advanced tools. Simply put, it should make image/photo processing much simpler to implement and execute.

Previously, developers had to use the weaker Core Graphics to manipulate images on the iPhone. Or they had to jerry-rig their own solutions to tap into something like OpenGL for more powerful functionality. While filters may seem like a simple feature, they’re not easy to create from scratch. iOS 5 will now give developers built-in options and a base so they no longer have to create from scratch.

These Core Image options will also significantly speed up image processing for many of the apps out there already using some filters. The reason is that it gives developers easier access to OpenGL, which is what developers currently use for things like video game graphic rendering — it’s significantly more powerful than Core Graphics, but harder to access.

Does the mean the end of Instagram, Path, Camera+ and the like? No, those guys will likely continue to operate on the more advanced end of the spectrum. Camera+’s “Clarity” filter, for example, is likely far beyond what iOS 5 will offer out of the box. But it will be another step towards the commoditization of filters as a whole. If an app has camera functionality, many more will now likely include them because, why not?

You’ll also likely see more apps that focus on video as a result of these additions to iOS. And there should be many more that focus on “crazy” photo effects.

Of course, the next iPhone itself may have an even bigger impact in the space. Rumored to have an 8 megapixel camera with a new sensor, the device will also likely be much faster when it comes to processing power. Combine this with the changes in iOS 5 and we’re likely going to see another leap forward in mobile photography.

And don’t forget the largest player in the photo space, Facebook. Work continues on their next app geared more towards photography. Meanwhile, Google appears to be attacking the space from a number of angles. And support for Tweeting pictures will now be fully baked into iOS itself.