A new patent filing uncovered by AppleInsider today shows that the company is still thinking about ways to upgrade the smartphone camera experience and deliver the best possible pictures you can get on a mobile phone. The invention would make it so that as soon as you open up the camera app on your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, the device starts grabbing full-resolution pics and storing them to a memory buffer, meaning when you finally push the shutter you’ll have a wealth of different images to choose from.
The design would use continuous image capture to try to improve quality, and to compensate for what are currently essential failings in the way mobile photography works. For instance, Apple’s patent describes how when taking a photo, the camera’s virtual “viewfinder” shows a partial resolution version of what’s being captured, and then when the shutter is pressed there’s a delay as it switches to full resolution mode to actually take the pic, which means what you see is not often what you get. If camera software begins immediately snapping high-res photos and storing them to a temporary cache, it should be able to match the proper frame with the moment a user intended to capture.
Apple’s system would select from the buffer of photos based on timing, but also on quality. It would score images automatically based on factors like contrast, resolution, dynamic range, exposure time and more to try to logically derive which is the best, most in-focus shot. The device will then purge the memory buffer after a certain amount of time, or when it hits a pre-set threshold to clear room for future captures. In one of the embodiments, the user is given a full resolution preview to approve or deny immediately after the photo is taken, and then presumably presented with other options.
It’s a technology that could easily be integrated into iOS without much outward change, but it would likely merit some fanfare from Apple if it were already in use, especially now that Android and other OEMs are beginning to compete more aggressively for consumer attention with advancements to onboard mobile camera tech. And others in the industry are already using similar technology to accomplish different things: BlackBerry 10’s face selection for Z10 camera pics is one example, and Nokia uses much the same technology in its own Windows Phone 8 devices, after it acquired the company that created the system in the first place.
Picking the best of multiple exposures is one way to improve on mobile camera tech, but it’s not the only means. There are plenty of other improvements which could make considerable differences, including Lytro, which is clearly interested in licensing its selective focus tech to OEMs once it’s ready. But the camera is an area where iterating quickly can have a big impression on consumers with each successive hardware generation; improving things on either the hardware or software side is imperative if Apple wants to keep ahead of the game, and this patent (filed in October of 2012) indicates it’s actively working to make sure that happens.