Smartphones have long been said to be able to replace point-and-shoot cameras. Ever since the arrival of the iconic Nokia N95 in 2007 (that some of you may still remember), it was clear that what was happening was a fundamental shift in the way we take and share images. In 2011, we finally started seeing smartphones like the iPhone 4 topping the list of most popular cameras on services like Flickr. Today, with record levels of smartphone penetration, there’s no arguing that a huge amount of people have already replaced their point and shoot cameras with a phone camera.
A lot of amazing things have already happened for smartphone cameras. 2013 - with all else - brought us unprecedented variety exactly in the camera area. Starting with state-of-the-art cameraphones like the Nokia Lumia 1020 with its 41-megapixel PureView camera and unmatched image quality, to the more polished smartphone camera interfaces coming from point-and-shoot lands with Samsung's high-end Galaxy devices and LG's phones, and finally ending with the large-pixel experiment of HTC One's UltraPixel camera. There was something for all tastes, and consumers could not complain about lack of choice.
With all this in mind you might be wondering: “Can 2014 bring us a new revolution in smartphone cameras?”
There are a few technologies that have been ripening in the past couple of years and may finally land in real devices in 2014. We lay them all out below, and we're looking forward to hearing what are you most excited about. Have you heard about an exciting camera technology? Sound off in the comments below with your thoughts and opinions.
All eyes on 2014: what's next for smartphone cameras
All eyes on 2014: what's next for smartphone cameras
1. MEMS cameras: the big opportunity
MEMS cameras are faster, more reliable and drawing less power than currently used technology. Auto-focusing is nearly instantaneous and you can capture an image extremely quickly. What this entails is that the camera is capable of firing up a quick burst of images focusing at different points and combine them in one large image where you can manually select the focus AFTER you have captured the image. If you’ve heard of Lytro, that’s the exact possible effect.
MEMS cameras are still a nascent technology, but Chinese premium phone maker Oppo has already placed an order, and we expect the first smartphone with a revolutionary MEMS camera to arrive in 2014. Sadly, it might take a bit more time until a large phone maker adopts the new camera tech.
2. 16-megapixel Samsung Galaxy smartphones
After the 5-megapixel phones of 2010, 8-megapixel phones of 2011 and 2012, and 13-megapixel phones of 2013, we are about to witness another increase in pixel count to 16-megapixels in 2014. Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, has unveiled its 16-megapixel ISOCELL sensor
that is very likely to end up in devices like the Samsung Galaxy S5 or Samsung Galaxy Note 4. The main benefit of cameras with more megapixels is their capability to deliver more detail in images. Samsung’s ISOCELL technology claims no light loss as well and an improvement in sensitivity and image dynamics over traditional backside-illuminated sensors.
3. PrimeSense Kinect-like camera in an Apple product
PrimeSense is the company behind the motion sensing camera in the original Kinect, and you might have heard it was acquired by Apple. Apple has proven it does not simply buy companies without a specific purpose, and it’s only logical to assume a Kinect-like camera in a future Apple product. Nevertheless, there are size limitations that dictate that - as much as we’d like - an iPad with a PrimeSense camera
is not very likely. Instead, many speculate that Apple might bundle in the newly acquired camera expertise in a future-gen Apple TV box.
4. One camera, many lenses
Another company we’d keep a close eye on in 2014 is Pelican Imaging. The start-up was in stealth mode up until MWC 2013 when it showed its 16-lens smartphone camera solution
. Pelican Imaging’s solution is similar to MEMS in that it can also deliver depth information, but instead of capturing multiple images consecutively, it simply fires one shot with a different focus coming from the 16 lenses.
5. 3D cameras exit sci-fi realms
The Structure sensor is a dual camera array that you can now purchase separately to mount on the back of an iPad. The cameras work much like human vision - having two camera lenses instead of one delivers information about depth, the third dimension. Such 3D technology is still something you have to purchase separately, but as phone makers look to differentiate, we would not be terribly surprised to see it get traction bundled right inside an existing product.
The possibilities that the Structure 3D sensor enables are huge - you can use it for 3D mapping, augmented reality games, and even 3D object scanning.
6. 3D scanning capabilities starting to come to smartphones
3D printers are in the headlines in the past few years for a good reason - they have fallen steeply in price and you can now get one for a few hundred dollars. However, the average user might not find much reason in buying one now - afer all, how could a user make a 3D scan? A new technology, however, is emerging from Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology that will allow using your current smartphone camera to make 3D scans
of real-life objects, and then print them out on the go. Imagine being able to immortalize yourself with a 3D printed statue, or 3D scan your dream car and print it in full 3D!
All of that could - if the stars align right - come late next year (at the absolute earliest) in the form of a simple Google Play application. The possibilities are endless, but with all the limitations of the current patent system, this might actually spill out into 2015.
7. 8-megapixel cameras becoming the standard for the mid-range
OmniVision is just one of the companies that have unveiled more affordable 8-megapixel camera sensors (like the OV8858 sensor). The advances in technology and the move to more megapixels for the high-end cameras will entail some good news for those looking for more affordable devices as well. We expect to see a jump from 5 megapixels up to 8-megapixel territory for mid-range smartphones.
2014 might be the year when Android smartphones start the move to 16-megapixel cameras. The estimated market for 8-megapixel devices is expected to grow to a whopping 440 million in 2014.