Apple Would Like You To Know People Think The iPhone’s Camera Is Awesome

Apple has never led market share in worldwide phone sales. Ever. And yet, the iPhone has held the (according to Flickr) title of world’s most popular camera for years.

Today, Apple is capitalizing on that by launching a new ad campaign dedicated to images shot by iPhone users. Apple’s driving point is that it has put a powerful creative tool into the hands of photographers that range the scale from professional to casual commuter.

This is designed to align with its ongoing series of ads that promote the iPhone, iPad and Mac as enablers of creativity. A recent spot aired during the Oscars is narrated by Martin Scorsese and features iPad filmmakers. Previous iPad spots have shown off their uses to other kinds of creative types.

The photos used in the campaign are culled from thousands of images and will display the work of 77 people in 70 cities in 24 countries and in a gallery on Apple’s site. The mechanics include both print campaigns and outdoor signage like billboards. All of the images are uncommissioned ‘found’ images pulled from ‘authentic’ iPhone users presumably to emphasize the fact that Apple doesn’t need to pay creative people to use its products.

Those photographers include Pei Ketron, Austin Mann, Cielo de la Paz, John Lehmann, Frederic Kauffmann and 52 others. The image at the top of this page by J. Imaizumi is one of those included in the campaign.

It looks like an image an iPhone user might capture of every day beauty that happens on their daily commute. While I carry several phones with me, it’s rare that I pull out a device other than an iPhone when I want to capture an image in tricky lighting. Other manufacturers just haven’t built the camera confidence level that Apple has, which is what the company is trying to capitalize on here.

Don’t think that it’s by chance that Apple is debuting the campaign on the inaugural day of Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress, either. HTC and Samsung have both already introduced the phones they hope will drive their high-end business in the new year. HTC’s event in particular focused on the M9’s 20 megapixel camera and its sapphire crystal lens cover. And early hands-on experience with the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge indicate that Samsung’s cameras are better, as well.

As counter-programming, Apple offers up an ad campaign based on the fact that the iPhone isn’t just the most popular camera phone in the world, but the most popular camera period. That’s a pretty strong riposte.

But the advantages that Apple has in the camera + phone space aren’t just ones of momentum. Most of its leverage comes in the fact that it has been proactive, not reactive, about photography. Rather than buying whatever the next highest megapixel array is available to it and stuffing it in the iPhone, Apple has invested deeply in the less visible and less toutable bits of the photographic imaging chain.

The major portions of that chain include lenses, imaging sensors, image processors and software. Currently, Apple is using Sony Exmor RS image sensors, but has emphasized improvements like backside illumination and pixel pitch over raw megapixel count. This takes some amount of guts, because it’s much easier to market a higher number than it is to do the same for an intangible, potential increase in image quality.

Just ask Canon, who actually dropped the megapixel count of its G-series point-and-shoot cameras from 14.7 back down to 10 in 2009. The increase in megapixels had led to awful issues in image noise and Canon had to make the tough decision to dial it back (resulting in far better low-light images in the G11). Those kinds of statement decisions that benefit the user are hard ones to make, but the payoff in pictures is worth it.

Another advantage here is that Apple makes and customizes its own image processing chips. Canon and Nikon, the most popular SLR manufacturers and imaging legends, both make and program their own image processors, as well — because they understand that this is the most pivotal portion of the imaging chain. (Though I do feel that the latest iPhones over-noise-reduce and over-sharpen a bit, but that’s another topic.)

Those advantages are difficult to compete with because they require years of investment, a willingness to make tough decisions and ownership of the entire chain right up to the software that drives the camera.

It’s going to be tough for Android manufacturers to compete with the iPhone here, because one or more of those factors are often out of their hands. Microsoft probably has the best chance and has already produced some very decent Lumia camera systems.

But, eventually, someone is going to make a pretty amazing Android camera phone. Maybe it’s even this year at MWC. Which is why it’s probably a good time to run an ad crowing about your lead.