Facebook searches photos, more


Want to see what your friends looked like 20 years ago? Or which ones took shots on Las Vegas earlier this month? Soon it will be simple to do so.

Facebook’s new “Graph Search” will let its 1 billion members quickly search through its 240 billion photos.

Facebook says it gives people “the tools to map out their relationships with the people and things they care about. We call this map the graph.” The new way to navigate these connections, Graph Search, combine phrases (for example: “my friends in New York who like Jay-Z”) to get that set of people, places, photos or other content that’s been shared on Facebook, the company says. “Graph Search will help you instantly find others, learn more about them and make connections, explore photos, quickly find places like local attractions and restaurants, and learn about common interests like music, movies, books and more. All results are unique based on the strength of relationships and connections.”

The first version of Graph Search focuses on four main areas — people, photos, places, and interests. For example, “photos I like,” “photos of my family,” “photos of my friends before 1999,” “photos of my friends taken in New York,” “photos of the Eiffel Tower”

As most content on the service isn’t public, “we’ve built Graph Search from the start with privacy in mind,” the company adds. “It makes finding new things much easier, but you can only see what you could already view elsewhere on Facebook.”

More information is here.




One Billion Cameras Shipped — in phones


One billion cameras were shipped in 2012, ABI Research projects — that is, in smartphones and tablets.

Almost every smartphone shipped today has an embedded rear camera and one in three smartphones have a front-facing camera, the research firm says. The number of media tablets with two cameras is even greater. “Purchasers expect to be able to take photos with their devices, and the popularity of video calling is driving the integration of front-facing cameras.”

Furthermore, ABI adds, 2.7 billion cameras in mobile devices are predicted to ship in 2018. Smartphones account for the majority of camera shipments, at 80% of the volume. More smartphones are anticipated to include front-facing cameras as video calling becomes more commonplace and the implementation of LTE network infrastructure in countries will further strengthen the demand of smartphones with these front-facing cameras.

The majority of smartphone releases this year have kept camera resolution around 8 megapixels, ABI notes. Mobile OEMs have looked into new features such as autofocus, rapid capture mode, best picture, and better image captures for low light environments. “Advancements in imaging technology are opening new doors for smartphones and media tablets,” the analysts add. “Mobile device cameras are becoming more than just a digital camera for taking snapshots of your kids and pet. New services like augmented reality and gesture recognition are now easily conceivable in mobile devices.”

More information on the study “More Than a Digital Camera” is here.




Software-only App spins iPhone 5 for automated panorama


We’ve all taken plenty of panoramic pics by slowly spinning in place, or at least waving the camera across the scene. Good 360-degree panoramic photos require the camera be atop a tripod and turned by hand, or set on a turntable-like motor. But what about that motor already in a phone: the vibration motor that replaces or amplifies a ring tone? Believe it or not, that vibration can move a phone — not just across a table, but, when well controlled, in incremental degrees for a full rotation.

The Cycloramic app works only on the iPhone 5 — that device is balanced just right with the placement of the vibrator, says developer Egos Ventures.

“Cycloramic rotates your iPhone 5 automatically so that it can shoot videos handsfree!” the company says. The phone can’t have cover on it, and must be placed upright on a smooth, level surface. “It may not work perfectly everywhere,” they warn, so “practice a few times before you try to impress you friends.”

And it is impressive: NY Times writer David Pogue included it in his Brightest Ideas of 2012 column and said it’s “Great for winning bar bets.” Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said it’s “Unexpected, fanciful, and useful all at the same time.”

My own review is a bit less effusive: “Worth a buck to play with it for a few minutes.” Nonetheless, pretty cool.

A minor downside: The app only creates a video, not a pannable still image or 360 format such as QTVR.



Smartphone-caused camera crash continues?


Slowing seasonal camera sales in your shop? You’re right to suppose the likely suspect continues to be smartphones: ABI Research says the ubiquitous devices “continue to steal market share” from both cameras and handheld game players.

In the digital camera market, shipments are expected to decline more than 11 percent year-over-year worldwide, and nearly 20 percent in North America, the firm reports.

Picture quality and lens attributes might still be the best way to differentiate dedicated point-and-shoot cameras, ABI adds. “While the auditory and visual quality of content in many ways is less important today than in the past, some consumers still look for these features. A subset of customers still look to higher end single-purpose cameras for higher image quality …over smartphone feature sets.”



Madbits makes moments


Your customer’s smartphone shots might be too small or incidental to often warrant hardcopy — but perhaps a collage might better tempt them to hit the print button.

A new app called Moments creates “Mondrian”-style photo collages — colorful layouts with two to 20 tiles — and even lets users compose those collages live, snapping shots into onscreen arrangements (as well as working with previously captured shots).

“The essence of one special moment can’t be captured in a single image,” says developer Madbits, “and photos lose their effect when you have to flip through too many of them. With Moments, iPhoneographers can better express their experience by combining photos instantly into a single, fully enriched collage, using an app that operates the same way their mind does.”



StickyAlbums: social imaging marketing tool for photographers


In the latest episode of the DIMAcast, StickyAlbums founder Nate Grahek explains how his simple platform enables pro photographers to create branded photo album apps stored on a client’s iOS or Android device or personal computer.

The service can help you optimize image display for mobile devices, and tie the sharable images to your brand and website to generate more referrals, he says. StickyAlbums allows shooters to create a unique slide show app for their client.

The full interview is here.



Facebook will poke you


Previously we discussed Snapchat and the new phenomenon of “self-destructing” photos — shots you can send for real-time visual communication without worrying they’ll be around forever to embarrass you — and predicted Facebook would soon offer its own version.

That happened almost instantaneously, as the leading social service introduced its Poke for Mobile app.

The iPhone app “makes it fun and easy to say hello to friends wherever you are,” the company says. The poke feature has been a part of Facebook since 2004. “Now we’re excited to share a new poke experience for mobile. With the Poke app, you can poke or send a message, photo, or video to Facebook friends to share what you’re up to in a lightweight way. You can poke an individual friend or several at once. Each message expires after a specific time you’ve set, either 1, 3, 5 or 10 seconds. When time runs out, the message disappears from the app.”

As we noted last week, “sexting” is a concern with these instant images. Facebook notes that “”If you ever see something you’re uncomfortable with, you can click the gear menu and report it.”



Cloud image storage Dropbox acquires Snapjoy


Where are you storing your own photos? Hopefully in more than one location, on multiple drives — and online in “the cloud.”

Cloud data storage leader Dropbox — which recently updated its own photo uploading —acquired another online imaging firm, Snapjoy, which aggregating photos from multiple sources.

Snapjoy says “by combining forces with their amazing team, we can leverage the technology and scale of their platform and focus on what matters — delivering an incredible photo experience to over 100 million people.”



Adobe frees Revel online image organizer


From $5/month to free: Adobe is now giving away its Revel photo library organizer service, which syncs your photos among multiple devices.

Users can now import their entire photo libraries for free, Adobe says – ”As many photos as you want in the first 30 days.”

Adobe is still offering a $6/month premium paid subscription, to import more than 50 new photos per month after the first 30 days.

Revel lets you access your photos almost anywhere you go, Adobe says, back-up your photos to the cloud, organize and share all the photos you have, apply non-destructive edits, and share web galleries that update automatically.



SnapChat — “Self-destructing” photos may alter photosharing


News analysis with Hans Hartman

There is some truth to the cliché, “A picture is worth a 1000 words.” Instagram knows it, and so does Twitter. No wonder photo-based Instagram has more daily active users than text-centric Twitter.  No wonder Twitter offered to buy Instagram for $525 million before Facebook managed to snap it up.  No wonder Twitter stopped outsourcing their photo storage to Photobucket to control their photo destiny themselves.

But what if your 1000 words were automatically recorded by the other party, who’d keep that recording?  Would you think twice before you pick up the phone — or share your picture? I hate to break it to you, but your 1000 words are recorded the minute you share your photo. Each time you email a photo the recipient has a copy, and they might share it with anyone — and there’s nothing you could do about it. And it’s worse with social networks. We found in our 6Sight Social Imaging Survey that people share on the average 34 photos per month.  But each time you share a photo on Facebook, who knows who’ll see it, today, this week, or ten years from now? It might linger around forever and could come back to haunt you, as editor Sarah Lacy writes at the Pandodaily news site.

However — what would happen if you could share certain photos without fear of being recorded? What if they could be set to “self-destruct” after a few seconds?  Would you share more photos?

Snapchat offers just that.  The five-person startup let you take and share what they call “self-destructing” photos. Already, 50 million are shared this way per day! That’s 10 times as many as Instagram, and already one-sixth the number of uploaded daily to Facebook.  (And if photos are not enough, the company announced on Friday it will also let you share self-destructing videos.)

Snapchat says it has “a new way to share photos with friends and family. We’re making “social media” fun again. We believe in sharing authentic moments with friends. It’s not all about fancy vacations, sushi dinners, or beautiful sunsets. Sometimes it’s an inside joke, a silly face, or greetings from a pet fish. Sharing those moments should be fun. Communication is more entertaining when it’s with the people who know us best. And we know that no one is better at making us laugh than our friends. There is value in the ephemeral. Great conversations are magical. That’s because they are shared, enjoyed, but not saved.”

As 80 percent of these photos are shared during the day, Snapchat’s success can’t be brushed off as “sexting,” as some have tried to do. Instead, we might be witnessing the birth of a new era of image sharing.

What are they sharing? It can primarily be the silly shots you’d like to send as a joke — if only you didn’t have to fear the image being out there forever for potential embarrassment.

It might also encourage a new generation of smartphone users to take up true visual communication — using an image instead of a thousand words, with the same freedom from worry they now have when it comes to talking on the phone that their words might be recovered.

Instant, “disposable” images are on their way. Who is first in line with a Snapchat clone?  Not too surprising: it’s Facebook! The company spent so much money on Instagram, but now it’s suddenly seeing photos shared in droves outside either of its networks. It can’t chance missing out on another disruptive new photosharing trend. Yes, a picture is worth a 1000 words, as Facebook knows better than most of us realize…

More information is here.

And here.

Suite 48 Analytics president Hans Hartman will speak in the “Mobile Imaging and retail Category Growth” session at DIMA, and the “Mobile Photo App Users – Will They ever order Photo Products?” session at PMA@CES.



Instagram changes terms to ‘sell’ user photos; then changes back


As one of my favorite authors John Scalzi put it: “You know, for once it would be lovely if a tech company could update its Terms Of Service so it DOESN’T have to backtrack on it after people freak out.”

As you likely heard, leading online image sharing site Instagram, now a subsidiary of Facebook, changed its ToS yesterday, and everyone with a blog page or Twitter account was up in arms about it, as if Instagram was going to start profiting by reselling your small, square blurry, filtered photo of your breakfast… The only resort was to download all of your Instagram photos and delete your account, and many a site published tutorials on how to do just that.

Facing such an uprising, the company’s CEO posted a “clarification” of the changes before even a full day had passed, emphasizing that no, Instagram would not resell its members’ pictures.

[Reselling its member’s data is another matter, however, as is true of any free social service: as the saying goes, if you are not paying for an Internet service, than you are not the customer — advertisers are, and you are the product.]

Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom’s post here admitted the first round of changes to the privacy policy and terms of service left “many users confused and upset about what the changes mean.”

However, he also makes it clear “From the start, Instagram was created to become a business. Advertising is one of many ways that Instagram can become a self-sustaining business, but not the only one.”

And to deflect criticism that Instagram would use member photos in ads, he merely says “We do not have plans for anything like this, and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question.” That’s a far cry from flat-out stating they would not DO it… And while Systrom states “Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos,” critics note that the legal language may leave shooters with “ownership” but Instagram has enough usage rights and control of the photo that “ownership” is meaningless. Nonetheless, Systrom does conclude that “We respect that there are creative artists and hobbyists alike that pour their heart into creating beautiful photos, and we respect that your photos are your photos. Period.”



YouTube offers capture app


One of those things that you would’ve thought was out already: YouTube now has a new app with which its users can capture video that is instantly uploaded to the sharing site.

Of course this’ll mean even more shared moments that might best be kept private if the uploader took a minute or two to think twice, as well as embarrassingly long takes that could’ve benefited from just a little editing…

“Life moves fast,” the company says. “To speed up recording, enhancing and sharing videos with your friends or the whole world, you can now use the YouTube Capture app on your iPhone or iPod touch. YouTube Capture is ready to record as soon as you open it. When you’re done filming, write a caption, select which networks you want to share to, and hit Share.”

You can control who sees your video by setting it to private (only you can view it), unlisted (only people with a link to the video can view it), or public (to let it shine to the world).

Actually, some editing is allowed post-upload: color correction, stabilization, and trimming the length, as well free background music can be done on YouTube.

It’s now on Apple’s App Store, and Android version is in the works.



Half of photo apps abandoned


Is that glass half full or empty?, asks Suite 48 Analytics with a new survey that finds mobile photographers abandon about half of their downloaded photo apps — but still use the other half regularly.

(Personally, I’ve downloaded dozens and dozens of apps I’ve not even tried yet, let alone abandoned — and a good chunk of those were paid, not free apps… albeit $1–2.)

Suite 48 Analytics polled 216 North American and European smartphone users, asking respondents what percentage of the photo apps that they have downloaded in the previous 12 months they still use more than once a month. The average percentage still used is 51 percent, and the median 50 percent.  The Flash Survey is the first of a series of free targeted and fast survey projects the company plans “to further enhance customer and market insights for photo app developers and imaging vendors.”

A free white paper, “Ongoing Photo App Use,” is here. It reports on how many photo apps mobile photographers have installed on their smartphones.

Suite 48 Analytics principal Hans Hartman will be speaking at the PMA conference on January 10.



Smarter shrinkage: Accusoft offers improved iPhone imaging


The iPhone’s resolution reduction got you down? Imaging developer Accusoft says its ThinPic for iOS will maintain your original image size, while reducing the file size for easier uploading.

The ThinPic app can work with any photo stored on the iPhone or iPad. It will reduce the photo file size by up to 70 percent, but “retain its image quality and resolution.” With it, you can “save on data transfer rates by reducing file size prior to sharing,” and  also store up to three times as many photos on the device.

Most strikingly, Accusoft claims that their full-resolution files are smaller than the ones iOS makes after cutting an image in half. “For example, the panorama mode in the iPhone 5 can capture a 17 MB image. When that photo is emailed from the iPhone the user is prompted to reduce the message size by scaling the image to Small, Medium, Large or Actual Size for faster transmission. The Actual Size setting scales the image to half of its original resolution to generate a file size of approximately 5.5MB. ThinPic will reduce the same image to around 4.4MB, while maintaining the original resolution.”

The app is free but limited to three photos per day, or $2 for unlimited use.



Eye-Fi expands to offer online image storage and syncing


Eye-Fi was the pioneer in connected cameras, providing storage cards that also added WiFi to off-the-shelf cameras from major manufacturers. But as more of us take photos with already-connected phones, the company needed to seek new territory — and now it has, with Circ, a storage and syncing service.

“Circ was created for anyone looking to easily access photos and videos anytime, anywhere, using their favorite devices,” the company says. “With every photo & video on every device, your best stories and favorite memories are ready to share anytime — not trapped on your computer at home or spouse’s phone. Storytelling has never been this fun.”

The “completely new photo service” has an app for Windows, iPhone and Android that collects photos and videos from your devices, automatically organizes them, and uses the cloud to keep everything in sync. Storage in the cloud is free and unlimited, and your photos are kept in original resolution. And, your content is available anywhere, without huge memory or performance demands on your devices.

“Original resolution” isn’t quite the case if you’re thinking unaltered image capture files — but Eye-Fi is promoting its compression as highly efficient and all-but lossless. “Circ’s intelligent recompression safeguards photos & videos in original resolution, yet delivers a smaller file size for faster, more efficient upload and sync,” the company says. “Original resolution means you can confidently print a recompressed image and won’t notice any difference to a print from the original file.”

“It’s been five years since we launched our first Eye-Fi wireless SD card,” CEO Yuval Koren says. Since that time, “one of the fundamental changes we’ve all experienced is the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and other devices we rely on to capture, view and share our memories.”
Circ is free for two devices; $50/year for up to 20.
More information is here.

Our new interview with Koren is here.



Facebook syncs to share photos faster


Maybe you’re like me: I take a lot of photos; I read friends’ posts on Facebook often; I hardly ever even think of posting a new photo there when I take it.

And maybe the new photo sync will prompt both of us to start sharing more shots, as it automates the uploading — when you take a photo on your phone in the mobile app, it’s sent to the site — and stores your images until you post ’em on your page.

“We’re excited to roll out photo sync, which makes it easier to share photos,” Facebook says. “With this feature, photos from your phone sync automatically to a private album on the web. When you want to share these photos, just pick and post your favorites.”

The company began testing photo sync in August, it says, but is now rolling it out more widely in its Facebook app for Android or iPhone.

When you turn on photo syncing, Facebook says, your mobile photos will be saved to a private section of your Facebook Photos. Only you can see the photos you’ve synced from your phone. When you later view your synced photos, you can choose shots to send in a private message, or share your on your timeline from desktop, mobile, or another device.

When you’re on a cellular network, Facebook will upload shrunken version of photos (around 100K each, it says), “so they’re unlikely to use much of your data plan.” However, it warns, “Please keep in mind that uploading over a cellular network will use your data plan and may cost you money.” [It can be set to upload only over a WiFi connection.]

Facebook’s billion members have uploaded more than 219 billion photos, at a current rate of about 300 million photos every day. The mobile apps however reportedly have less than 250 million users.



Instagram disables image viewing on Twitter


Personally, I already don’t bother to look at most of the pictures in my Twitter news feed. Now it’ll happen even less:

Late last week a scuffle broke out between two of the top social imaging services, as Instagram decreed it wanted its photos viewed on its site, not through Twitter, and so disabled the easy linking users of both services has enjoyed for a long while.

This week both companies rolled out updates — and the timing may be coincidental, but the intentions surely are not.


First, last week: Instagram disabled the code support that allowed Twitter users to embed Instagram images in their tweets that others could fully see in the Twitter newsfeed without going to the Instagram site.

“Users are experiencing issues with viewing Instagram photos on Twitter,” Twitter says. “This is due to Instagram disabling its Twitter cards integration, and as a result, photos are being displayed using a pre-cards experience. So, when users click on Tweets with an Instagram link, photos appear cropped.”

Many online pundits see this as a more of a struggle between Twitter and Instagram’s new owner Facebook than an actual overt move on Instagram’s part.

On the one hand: big whoop, it’s hardly a huge inconvenience to click the photo link and have it open a new browser window in which the photo appears full size — and it’s arguably better that way than the tiny inline image Twitter shows in its newsfeed… Instagram argues just that, actually: it wants its photos to be seen on its web page where it can optimally display them.

On the other: this seems like a power grab that spites only its own users: If I take a photo and upload it to Instagram, hey, it’s still my photo, not theirs — and if I want to embed it in a tweet and have it visible on Twitter, that should be my right. Instagram’s attempt at authority will likely only have two effects: Twitter readers will see far fewer Instagram images [unless you like overly filtered shots, hardly a loss] and Twitter posters will use another image service — most likely the one from Twitter and Photobucket — instead of Instagram.

So that was last week — and this week, Twitter duplicated the feature Instagram is best known for: filters, adding eight of ’em, “ranging from black & white to vintage” [which doesn’t seem to be a long range...]

The mobile app also now sports easy tools to “edit and refine your photos… new ways to enhance the images you tweet.” The tools were developed with imaging software maker Aviary.

“Every day, millions of people come to Twitter to connect with the things they care about and find out what’s happening around the world,” the company says. “As one of the most compelling forms of self-expression, photos have long been an important part of these experiences.”

Not to be outdone, Instagram calls its latest iPhone app “the largest upgrade to our Instagram iOS camera since it was revamped just over one year ago… We’ve made significant improvements to its look and speed.”

The app has “Instagram-themed” shutter & shutter release buttons, speed and reliability improvements, as well as a new filter, Willow, “a monochrome filter with subtle purple tones and a translucent glowing white border,” and an improved Tilt-Shift feature with a “completely overhauled blur algorithm” that increases quality and accuracy, the company says. “Tilt-shift now gives a vastly more realistic rendering of depth of field because of these improvements and subtle tweaks to how we render the image.”



Apple, Google to acquire Kodak imaging patents


Apple and Google teamed to offer more than $500 million to buy Kodak’s  imaging patents, Bloomberg reported late last week.

With their two leading smartphone operating systems, iOS and Android, the two companies have dominant positions in mobile imaging, and doubtless would rather not face patent infringement claims from any potential rival buying Kodak’s intellectual property.

It’s not an uncommon move: Apple worked with Microsoft and Research in Motion to acquire 6,000 patents for $4.5 billion from bankrupt Nortel Networks last year.

Kodak, in the midst of bankruptcy and reorganization, seeks to sell 1,100 imaging patents.

Kodak has claimed the patents may be worth more than $2 billion, but others counter the patents are already too widely licensed to be of much further value.

More on the story is here.



ICanHasCheezburger? RPI to print internet memes


Today, “people crave a connection with tactile objects to accompany their virtual experiences,” says private-label photo printer RPI. And personalized products fill that craving, extending the content experience into the physical world.

Now, to meet growing consumer demand in the online greeting card, pet humanization and mass customization categories, RPI partnered with leading humor website Cheezburger to offer personalized “ICanHasCheezburger” cards.

More than 20,000 photos and videos are uploaded to Cheezburger’s properties every day, the company says.

Seattle, Wash-based RPI (Reischling Press, Inc.) produces personalized photo books, greeting cards and stationery products for mass and specialty retailers. Through its embedded storefront service, RPI says it can offer Cheezburger and other brands a new way to monetize the social photography experience.

The two companies are working with The Madison Park Group, a manufacturer and distributor in the specialty stationery and gift industry.

The companies say the partnership “demonstrates how companies can further their existing brands, drive additional revenue and increase customer loyalty through personalized products.”

RPI CEO Rick Bellamy explains why social imaging will prove increasingly important to photography and printing in our interview here.



Photobucket tells Stories, starts $25,000 contest


Combining photos and videos into complete, sharable narratives, Photobucket is now offering the “Photobucket Stories” feature they told us about in the most recent episode of the Imaging Executive Podcast. “Stories helps to transform the act of photosharing into the art of storytelling,” the company says.

With its recent revamp, Photobucket has seen continued growth with new registrations reaching one million new users, the company says, while time spent on the site is up two and a half times, per user, as compared with the previous site. Photobucket users are also engaged with the new Stories feature, generating more than 100,000 “Stories” in the limited availability beta period.

“Our mission has always been to help people preserve and protect their memories, but now we’ve been able to take that a step further and turn memories into meaningful, unique stories.” Photobucket adds. “The new features we’ve built into the all-new Photobucket allow users to do so much more with their photos and video than ever before.”

It’s also collaborative: friends and family can contribute photos, video and text to a single, sharable canvas. “No longer are consumers confined to sharing images one at a time or in structured album formats,” the company says. “With Photobucket Stories, the larger narrative evolves with richer context and meaning.”

For the launch, Photobucket offers the opportunity to win $25,000 with its “Life’s An Adventure” contest, in which users are invited to chronicle and share their interesting exploits. Entries are now being accepted through December 9, and winners will be announced on December 14.

Our interview with the companies CEO Tom Munro and vice-president David Toner is here.



CEWE mobile app built on Athentech Perfectly Clear

Cewe Color licensed Athentech Imaging’s Perfectly Clear mobile app for Android and iOS, and will make the app free to all CEWE customers.

With one click, users can shoot a photo, automatically correct it, and then share their precious memories to favorite social sites or by email, Athentech says. The app’s “Perfectly Smooth” feature automatically removes blemishes and wrinkles for flawless skin.

“We love how fun and powerful the Perfectly Clear mobile app is, so we wanted a CEWE version for brand awareness and to encourage customers to work on their mobile images and then print”, CEWE says.

“The convenience of mobile imaging is excellent,” Athentech adds, but “the image quality is not always superb. We’re delighted to be working with CEWE in helping their customers print and share beautiful images on devices they always have with them.”

Also, former SmugMug COO Andy Williams joined Athentech as Chief Operating Officer. “It’s important for every photo be the best it can be, whether online or print,” Williams says. “With Perfectly Clear, this is done with one click, automatically.”



Samsung Android camera: Now we’re talking

At the 6Sight conference in June in New York, we proposed a voice-controlled camera using a smart interface such as the SIRI virtual assistant now in beta mode on Apple’s iPhone 4s.

The goal would not be to merely let you snap the shutter with a shout instead of a button-push; instead it would open the real power of photography to everyone who hasn’t learned the intricacies of shutter speed, aperture, focus, and other fine controls, or mastered all the various modes and options on a complicated digital camera.

Just as SIRI all-but understands natural language requests such as “where nearby can I get some Thai food tonight?,” a truly smart camera would let new users say “give me that slow waterfall effect in this low light,” and capture the photo they desire without cracking open the user’s manual.

And while SIRI is currently ridiculed for not understanding many user requests and comments, a voice-controlled camera would have a much better chance of higher recognition accuracy, as the commands and feature requests would all be of a very specific nature: photography.

Samsung’s new Galaxy Camera is the first model to combine an expandable operating system with voice commands. And it *almost* gets us to the scenario proposed above: The ‘Smart Pro’ technology “makes it easy to recreate advanced photographic setups in just a few simple steps for stunning artistic results,” Samsung says. However, while the camera has voice controls, they are limited to the most basic functions such as capture and zoom… Not exactly the tools users have a hard time with. To access the more artistic attributes, users must navigate a menu system — not just speak aloud what they want.

While the exact feature set announced here is a bit disappointing, given the capabilities in hand, we are optimistic that future apps will provide exactly this functionality. And after all, the whole point of an open OS such as Android is the ability for the user to add new programs and functions, rather than await firmware upgrades or worse, next year’s model.

Sony also announced a new camera with such easy upgradeability, and their own line of “PlayMemories” camera apps; we’ll see how quickly Samsung follows suit, and who is first — perhaps Apple with the iPhone 5 of iOS camera? — to deliver a truly smart camera that delivers complete access to photography’s artistic side with utmost ease and simplicity.



Apple wins Samsung patent trial; $1B damages

The iPhone is arguably the best selling digital camera of all time — and Apple has now won its most prominent battle to protect that device’s technologies and design.

After three days of deliberations, the jury reached a unanimous verdict on most counts in Apple’s suit against Samsung, and that Samsung had willfully infringed on Apple’s patents and trade dress for the iPhone.

Samsung must pay Apple $1.05 billion in damages, the jury ruled, for willfully infringing on Apple’s intellectual property.

The three-week trial in federal court in San Jose, California, concluded last week. Apple filed suit in April 2011.

“Today’s verdict should not be viewed as a win for Apple, but as a loss for the American consumer,” Samsung said in a statement. “It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices. It is unfortunate that patent law can be manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners, or technology that is being improved every day by Samsung and other companies. Consumers have the right to choices, and they know what they are buying when they purchase Samsung products. This is not the final word in this case or in battles being waged in courts and tribunals around the world, some of which have already rejected many of Apple’s claims. Samsung will continue to innovate and offer choices for the consumer.”

“A jury on Friday found in favor of Apple in its patent infringement case against Samsung,” Apple states. “After finding that Samsung willfully infringed a number of patents, the jury awarded Apple $1 billion in damages. We are grateful to the jury for their service and for investing the time to listen to our story and we were thrilled to be able to finally tell it,” Apple said in a statement provided to The Loop. “The mountain of evidence presented during the trial showed that Samsung’s copying went far deeper than even we knew. The lawsuits between Apple and Samsung were about much more than patents or money. They were about values. At Apple, we value originality and innovation and pour our lives into making the best products on earth. We make these products to delight our customers, not for our competitors to flagrantly copy. We applaud the court for finding Samsung’s behavior willful and for sending a loud and clear message that stealing isn’t right.”


Samsung adds Android, 3G/4G connectivity to camera; is it a phone?

Samsung Electronics says it is “creating a brand new type of device” with its Galaxy Camera, “for those who wish to shoot, edit and share high quality photographs and video easily and spontaneously from anywhere, at any time.”

While cameras equipped with WiFi connectivity have been offered for years with varying success, smart expandable operating systems such as Android are a much newer feature on consumer  cameras — and Samsung is going a step further with not just WiFi, but also 3G and/or 4G connectivity (albeit with a carrier-connected micro-SIM card slid inside). All told, this new device has the OS and connectivity of a smartphone — but it lacks standard phone functionality. You won’t be making a call with this camera.

However, the Voice Control option allows users to control basic functions such as ‘Zoom in’ and ‘Shoot’ through voice. (See our here for more on this possibility.)

As a camera, this is pretty strong contender: The EK-GC100 Galaxy Camera has a 16-megapixel, 1/2.33-inch BSI CMOS sensor. The 21x lens zooms from 23-480mm, with a f/2.8 – 5.9 aperture.

The camera is operated from its 4.8-inch touchscreen, with touch-to-focus functions, as well as intelligent scene modes such as Waterfall Trace with slowed shutter speed, and Night Trace for evening shoots of light trails. The ‘Smart Pro’ technology “makes it easy to recreate advanced photographic setups in just a few simple steps for stunning artistic results,” Samsung says. Also, the camera includes 35 photo-editing features, a ‘Photo Wizard’ that “allows users to make professional quality edits on the go.”
Additionally, the Auto Cloud backup feature uploads photos as you shoot.

It’s unclear at this time whether the camera’s capture modes use the Android 4 OS, or, like Nikon’s upcoming Coolpix S800c with Android 2, it instead relies on the company’s own firmware for capture — and merely shifts to Android for editing and sharing.

Samsung sites the “new era of visual communication” which becomes “more vivid and lively with high-quality images and instant sharing anywhere, anytime.” The Galaxy “easily outperforms any smartphone camera,” the company says, with “outstanding photography on the go:. Users never again have to sacrifice picture quality if they want to edit and share their photos instantly.”

With a bigger sensor and the ability to work as a phone, a Galaxy camera could replace both the smartphone and the quality camera in the pockets of imaging enthusiasts. This current iteration doesn’t quite fit that bill, but comes closer than previous offerings.
More information is here and here.



Samsung Galaxy Note II camera phone features widest screen yet

With a 5.5 inches wide screen, Samsung claims its Galaxy Note II “enables unique experiences in personalized and expressive content creation, making it the ultimate smartphone for on-the-go creativity.”

The HD Super AMOLED screen provides “breathtaking visuals and crystal clear detail,” the company says. “Its 16:9 screen ratio ensures an immersive and enriched cinema-like video viewing experience, perfect for watching HD videos on-the-go. Its larger screen allows users to see content clearly and vividly, with much enhanced readability. In addition to the stunning content consumption experiences on a larger screen, users will also be able to accomplish more tasks efficiently and create content freely on-the-go, as the GALAXY Note II comes with a thinner and portable body.” The phone is 9.4mm thick.

It has a quad-core 1.6GHz processor, and an 8-megapixel camera. Camera features include burst shot, best photo, and Best Faces, which allows users to choose the most preferred face or pose of each person from group portrait photos. Users can also personalize photos by leaving handwritten notes on the backside of a photo using the S Pen. Handwritten photo notes can be shared with others in jpg format.

The new stylus has a rubber nib to better emulate pen and paper. The S Pen “is longer, thicker and ergonomically designed for the perfect grip,” Samsung says. “Therefore, it provides a more precise, comfortable, and natural writing and drawing experience.”