Toward the end of the year, burst mode camera app developer SnappyLabs disappeared from Apple’s App Store, along with its app, SnappyCam, only to reappear on the pages and posts of industry merger and acquisition analysts.
SnappyCam one-upped Apple’s iOS 7/iPhone 5s burst mode image capture with 20 photos per second to Apple’s 10. The unique SnappyCam approach, documented in this post still available at archive.org, involves multi-threaded JPEG compression, encapsulated in 50,000 lines of Objective C code. It is that intellectual property and that code that attracted acquisition interest.
This means that strategically, Apple wants to remain not only the phone of choice for mobile consumers and workers, but also the camera of choice. With traditional camera sales falling, mobile phone sales continuing to rise and new photo-based social apps, like Snapchat and Vine, emerging regularly, the phone becomes central to the photo experience.
These burst mode approaches allow people to rapidly acquire images and then choose among the best shots. In many cases, another level of software will suggest the best shot based on exposure and composition heuristics. These are not only good for action situations and fast-moving subjects, but also for portraits where subtle expression differences can be the choice between a keeper and a discard.
Eventually services will be built into image software on the device, similar to Facebook’s auto tagging, that will identify people and features prior to uploading images to the web, or as metadata stored locally with the images that will assist in organizing those images.
The industry is already seeing mobile phones differentiated by cameras, especially by Nokia trying to find a foothold with its Lumia products. But megapixels aren’t the story on mobile devices. Software is the story, and the company that accumulates the most unique intellectual property for image capture, manipulation, search, tagging and sharing will find themselves at a competitive advantage. Look for more acquisitions in this area. Apple will likely integrated SnappyCam technology into a future OS release rather than rebrand the app. In the meantime, iPhone users who don’t already own SnappyCam will need to be satisfied with taking only 10 photos a second.