Apple creeps up on the Galaxy Note

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Steve jobs was adamant. Before he died, he had said that no one would buy a bigger screen smart phone. But before he passed on, he was involved in two contradictory products, a bigger iPhone and a smaller iPad. He never lived to see that come to fruition. His padawan underling, Tim Cook, broke ranks and made the iPhone bigger, so much bigger that Steve would be tossing in his grave if he ever found out.

Needless to say, the new iPhone 6 Plus will be a hit for those who were waiting for more. The new iPhones will make billions for Apple and the chief reason is this. The iPhone is no longer a consumer product. It is a fashion statement. Take a look at the prices below for the new iPhones without contract and you’ll get what I mean. All prices are quoted is USD.

  • iPhone 6 (16GB): $649
  • iPhone 6 (64GB): $749
  • iPhone 6 (128GB): $849
  • iPhone 6 Plus (16GB): $749
  • iPhone 6 Plus (64GB): $849
  • iPhone 6 Plus (128GB): $949

Price Factor for Success

Let’s examine what you get from it all. Chief among them is the fingerprint scanner, Health Kit integration, Apple Pay and OIS camera stabilisation either digital or optical for the new iPhones. The camera stays the same, some may be disappointed by this but truth be told, Apple fan boys will buy into this regardless. Mobile photographers will no doubt be disappointed as the flock in droves to Nokia’s 1020 64GB shooter which offers the purest photography experience. Mobile Videographers on the other hand have already defected to Samsung Galaxy Note 4 thanks in part to its 4K video capture. Artist who like to draw in freehand have already doubled down on the Galaxy Note, so that leaves the rest of you out there sitting on the fence, undecided.

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Chart is from Android Authority

There is no mention of RAM by Apple during the launch, which of course is a good thing for Apple because you won’t know when it fails and run out of memory so you end up blaming the app developers instead for creating something buggy. Apple will be blameless for this, even though they set the highest parameters for apps that go through their store, the onus is on you when you download and run them.

Battery life will vary, and is said to be between 20 to 30 percent for the 6 and 6 Plus models over the older 5S model. This doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be wall hugging from time to time. The main problem as always the display. Bigger screens need more power.

Going Big Against the Galaxy Note 4

Presently, there is no comparison. The IPS displays from Apple cannot match the pixel resolution of the Galaxy Note 4 and it shows. To think that this is going to change the game would be a mistake. Apple’s 5.5 inch screen is rated average and is nothing to shout about.

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Chart from Android Authority

In terms of display real estate. The Galaxy Note’s 5.7 inch might be a tad too big, while the 5.5 inch screen is more ideal as it is still pocketable for the bigger folks. To be honest, screen density is subjective. If you suffer from any vision problems, no amount of pixel is going save you. The only benefit is of course the large text that appears on screen, which is a boon to the old.

Screen density is most noticeable in movie playback. The details on the screen will be sheer joy to your eyes.

Why the Apple iPhone will be a success

The majority of us are only looking for a device that meets our requirement and sometimes a bigger screen will just do it. Apple lost a huge market to Android because of this and technically speaking, there is no real advantage between both the platforms. You have all your productivity software given to you free to meet all your office requirement. Facebook app works out of the box for both, and so does Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest, Foursquares, and Twitter.

Beyond this, it’s just your learning curve. Trusted that Apple’s iPhone is designed to be more fool proof than fool hardy, those who have been dissatisfied with the complexities of the Android platform can now safely move back to the iOS sphere where it is no longer saddled with a smaller display screen.

For the rest of us who have migrated over to Android, there is no real reason to go back. And that’s the way it will always be.

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Did KitKat decimated Apple’s hold on Mobile Photography?

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I have for the longest time felt that the Instagramers of our generation really had it good on iOS until it made its appearance on Android a few years back. Even then, Android ICS and JellyBean could not match the technical capabilities as there were hundreds of photography apps compared to a few that really stood out. iOS 8 has unwrapped two new features, namely selective focus and exposure and time lapse video. Ho-hum. I think I felt asleep waiting for that one to happen.

By the time KitKat arrived, things started to change. Apple’s iOS camera capabilities were finally dethroned. It has taken more than fives years for Android to catch up with Apple’s strangle hold on mobile photography.

Sure, there are premium type features found on the Windows Nokia Lumia 1020 phone that beats them both down but the performance of the camera is a one off and is not found in all Lumia products. For Apple at least, you could download an photography app that will run across all devices on iOS 7. Google has done the same for KitKat in the form of the Google Camera App.

Now Google’s Camera app isn’t new. It is a standard feature found on all Android KitKat releases but it has some rather fussy requirements, like maybe a gyro sensor for Panorama mode and at least 1GB of RAM free (which means you technically need 2GB of RAM onboard) for Lens Blur Bokeh. But it will work on devices running KitKat in the same way iOS8 camera capabilities will do on required hardware.

Apple hasn’t really upgraded its camera features. It has in iOS7 given new meaning to the term ‘idiot proof’ with a slew of visible selections, like crop size, video and photo mode, HDR. On the iOS store, there are several apps that makes the camera do more, like Time Lapse photography, Panorama and manual controls for advanced mobile photographers—so what was unveiled for iOS 8 isn’t ground breaking. To really know the difference, you need to go down to your respective appstores and see what those apps can do for you in respect to what the standard iOS or Android app is capable of.

Immersive Bubble Photography

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Google’s Android already could do panorama for some time now. Its only weakness was in producing bubble photos whereas iOS had two, Bubbli (now owned by Yahoo) and Microsoft’s Photosynth. With KitKat, Google introduced Photosphere to counter any iOS offering—with hardware demands found only in midrange and premium Android models. The Apple iPhone no longer owns this space. Trusted that Bubbli is now owned by Yahoo, future updates could tie it to yahoo’s Flickr cloud storage—similar to what Microsoft has done with Photosynth. Google on the other hand has countered this with Photosphere that has become a standard feature for KitKat. Anyone running the latest Android will be able to download and use Photosphere—and share it on Picasa, Drive or G+. Where is Apple in all this? I frankly do not know.

High Dynamic Range Photography

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Done to death in the past, there are numerous HDR capable camera apps offering true HDR capabilities (captured with either two or three frames). Apple’s own HDR takes only two frames and merges the two frames into one. True HDR processing is omitted from the Google Camera App for good reason—it is not effective. Whereas for faux-HDR, where a tone mapped image is generated from one still frame is catered for by several apps found on both the Google Play and Apple Appstore. I won’t go into detail on this one but to say that it doesn’t really work that well for multiple exposures. Apple’s iOS camera API only allows for a fixed 1 sec maximum exposure in low ISO. So unless it is incredibly bright and contrasty, you won’t claw much dynamic range back from the rendered JPG files. The same goes for Android. Shutter speeds are capped to prevent you from getting a 1 sec exposure. True HDR for now remains to be elusive on both platforms.

3D Parallax Photography

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The third dimension is often the most rewarding and for this, I think that iOS could do no more than to thank the guys at Seene.co for this feature. It takes a huge chunk of RAM to do something this spectacular on iOS7 and I think Apple should snap up the company before anyone else does. However Google isn’t far behind, you can upload a picture shot on KitKat enabled Google Camera app (with depth information) and have that processed at depthy—a third party site that renders those 3D parallax photos.

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Seene on the other hand uses WebGL for rendering the 3D parallax photos with some constraints. The problem now is to transition to a sharable image like what Seene has done. Google’s KitKat camera app already captures depth information but it hasn’t gotten round to processing them onboard a device. Apple on the other hand has no such capability. The iOS camera app is totally devoid of features such as Volumentric Stereo processing for images.

 

Bokeh Lens Blur

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Left is the depth map, the right is the static picture. Combined, they allow users to specify the amount of blur they want from their photos

One of the often lamented feature that was missing on mobile photography is the ability to render a shallow depth of field on a image. Lens Blur is effectively an after effects filter applied on to a photo and for this, many apps can be found with this one feature alone on the iOS store. The problem with this feature is that it is often faked to the point of no return.

The KitKat Camera app has detailed depth information which is used to render the blur,

Having played around with numerous apps that offer this feature (including TADAA SLR on iOS) I found it less than satisfactory in application and in use for generating depth or focus blur. Google’s Camera app triumphs over iOS 7’s camera feature in this one area which I think will be addressed in the coming iOS8 update.  If it doesn’t. Apple risk losing more ground to Android.

Camera Battle Rages On

The struggle right now is two folds. To make a better camera (read idiot proof) or to create a new line of features that maxes out the potential or the mobile operating system? The camera battle is now in Google’s court. Apple has so far invested heavily on hardware performances but that hasn’t translated to giving more features to the user. Google on the other hand has made it so rudimentary that the future updates will carry  endless options for photography that is missing from professional cameras. Will these forks converge into a better camera experience? Or will there be another technology in waiting that allows Apple to claw back it’s lost pride?

We only need to wait for an answer as Android, iOS and to some extent Microsoft Windows have savaged the traditional camera markets to the point where overall sales of digital cameras have fallen. People want more from their cameras and this is one thing that straight up digital cameras cannot offer. After all, the best camera to shoot with is the one you have with you by your side…always.

 

Photosphere on Android: No Root Required

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One of the most exciting thing to come out of Android in the 4.3 update was Photosphere, a bubble photo capture feature found on Nexus devices but Google unfortunately did not make that available to all as it was included as a native camera app. So if you have updated to 4.3, chances are that you’ll still be missing this feature unless you got yourself a stock standard Android update like those found on Nexus and Motorola phones.

Photosphere APKs to the Rescue

The folks at XDA released an APK file for users to download and install the Google Nexus camera app and you can find them here.

But a word of warning. It doesn’t actually work on all devices running Android 4.3. Part of the problem is probably the hardware. The Galaxy Note 2 did allow me to run the app but the images shot on it were far from stellar. The overlapping images didn’t stitch well and the whole bubble image turned out to be more of a psychedelic attempt at feeding LSD directly into your brain. You can view my failed attempt here.

Shooting a bubble is relatively easy. It can take anywhere from 3 to 5 mins to complete the photography cycle before you can stitch it all together.

The APK file is actually a Gallery and Camera app, the camera’s bubble capture capability is buried under this APK. Samsung has its own dedicated camera app in Android 4.3 that doesn’t support Photosphere so you need to remind yourself to launch the Google Gallery or Camera app instead of your usual device camera app to capture and view bubble photos.

Photo Bubbles are Hip

Well, Instagram is so old school so why not get some new school shooting with Bubble photos? Allow me to give you an idea what Photosphere is to Google.

  • It is to be used alongside Streetview, where places prove inaccessible to their cars.
  • Photosphere can be shared on G+
  • On mobile, Photosphere can only be viewed in real-time using the Maps application or Web browser.

Both iOS and Windows Mobile have competing Bubble type photography features but on unfortunately on iOS, it is not native. Apple couldn’t care two hoots about Bubble photos but a few Apps that support the iPhone, including Microsoft’s Photosynth.

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Google Maps and Photo Bombing Opportunities

In recent past, Photosphere was the domain of the DSLR. You needed one of those to shoot the photos and put them together. However with the new mobile capability on Google approved devices, ANYONE can shoot a photo bubble, upload it and have that seen all over the world. For advertising mileage, there isn’t anything better! People who contribute to Photosphere can effectively Photo Bomb the image with banners and advertisements before uploading those to Google maps.

Hardware Compatibility Issues

Right now, Google hasn’t got any plans to make Photosphere a standalone app, but it might do so if it wants more people to contribute to the platform. The chief reason for this omission so far has to be hardware issues. Dual core devices with 1GB of RAM won’t cut it. Shooting photo bubbles and stitching them together is a RAM intensive operation. There is also the question of accelerometer compatibility as this is used heavily when all the photos are being put together.

Photosphere

For now, you can download the Google approved Gallery APK with Photosphere and try it on your device. It might not work but if it does, then it is good to go. Google has released a slew of APIs to support Photosphere for use on websites and blogs so you won’t be seeing the last of this for a very long time.

Nokia’s Lost Android Dream

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So it was a missed opportunity, and it is all in the news. Before Microsoft bought out Nokia, the latter had already been testing a slew of Android enabled phones with a dedicated eco-system similar to Amazon’s take on Android.

Looking back, I have to admit that I loved all the Symbian phones and two in particular were my personal faves, the Nokia 3660 and Nokia 6600. Now, we hear that Nokia might be no more, at least in Spirit, once Microsoft assumes control of the entity.

Before I got my iPhone, I had a N95—which I adored, and after that the Nokia 5800 before moving into iOS and Android. That said you could see how Nokia got it all wrong.

As much as I loved my phone, Nokia was destroyed by Elop, the CEO who abandoned all Symbian efforts and Meego initiatives for something he knows well…Windows Mobile.

What Went Wrong with Windows

When you are late to market, you sometimes have to pay to learn. And Microsoft is NOT  learning this one bit. For the record, Windows Mobile 8 & RT are significant departures from previous Windows Mobile OS systems. I once owned an O2 version of the XDA Mini. It didn’t work like a charm and faltered. Then I bought into the Samsung Omnia, a ridiculous Windows mobile OS killed it. Times were changing and Microsoft still didn’t get it right.

Windows Mobile 8 & RT with its slick Metro interface is fantastic. The concept on how it works is simple, just like iOS, the approach is flat. You can’t go wrong with something like this but Microsoft did screw it up. It was priced too close to Apple’s own iPhone. When the RT tablets came out, they priced it too close to the Apple iPads. Stupidity is indeed contagious if when you consider that Microsoft had a lot of catch up to do in the market.

The Japanese know that to command the attention of the masses you need software. And to get the people to develop software, you need to sell the hardware for cheap.

This sort of Loss Leader approach is what made the Playstation and Nintendo machines of their day the top of the heap. Remember that when the PS3 was launched, Sony sold it at a loss to encourage consumers to buy it, with that, they went into the software business with the numbers they needed to justify selling it at a loss. It worked. Nintendo did the same and corner the console market.

Dude, Where’s My Software!?

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The pathetic list of software on the Windows Mobile Marketplace is a sign of something gone wrong and here it is. Do you know it cost you US$1200 a year to sign up to be a Windows Mobile 8 Developer and have access to the MSDN support?

There is a free plan which includes the use of Visual Studio Tool Express but the developer license must be renewed monthly, at no cost. The highly restrictive free plan is limited to 5 PC  stations.  You can only list 5 free apps on the mobile appstore in one year and after that, it cost US$20 a pop for each additional free app you add to that list. MSDN is the developer network which you won’t have access to unless you pay that $1.2 grand a year.

In recent past, Microsoft charged US$99 for a windows mobile developer account but decided that it already makes enough money from the professional developers to forgo this part of the fee. Blackberry developers probably get the best deal with free membership and free listing with free tools. Blackberry also gives you the porting tools you need to make your Android app totally Blackberry compliant though I don’t see much benefit since you have Blackberry fragmentation to deal with.

Apple developers and Google Android developers have access to free software support as well as forum support without an afterthought. Google doesn’t charge you anything but a flat US$25 as an entry free to their domain. Apple’s iOS Enterprise Developer Program  maxes out at US$300 a pop. That’s a far fry from the US$1200 that Bill Gates Inc. charges. For smaller companies, you can subscribe to list any app on the Apple Appstore for US$99 a year.

Emulate Google Play Success

Sorry, Microsoft didn’t hear that. Google’s Android has garnered so much interest and success is due to one thing and that it’s devices are priced below that of iOS. The fragmentation that came along with it didn’t worry it as much as there was mass market appeal.

iOS was first to market, even though Nokia had for some time had its own store for Symbian apps, it never took off because it was in decline. Elop killed Nokia after taking it to Windows and that’s the end of the story.

The iOS success story is simple. Steve Jobs needed software for iOS and he made the tools freely available on the Mac when you sign up to be a developer. And the tools are pretty good too. When the hardware prove to be a hit, he had legions following him.

Google’s Android SDK is nothing to shout about but it works. Blackberry has the lowest point of entry for developers who want to go into Apps creation. Everything is free, to join and to list an app.

Microsoft: Penny wise and pound foolish

Microsoft thinks it needs a hardware manufacturer like Nokia to succeed in the mobile campaign. Sounds like a dream but they are thinking it might just work for them. Seven billion is small change for Microsoft. Nokia’s mobile business isn’t worth that much after the damage Elop did to the company. But Nokia held the trump card with 80 percent of the Windows Mobile Phone. No other manufacturer came close.

Even though Nokia is achieving limited success with its Lumia phones, it faces an Android onslaught. Elop could have done a deal with Google if he wasn’t reputed to be the Trojan Horse that Microsoft sent in. He could also have taken up MeeGo, a Linux based OS (which evolved to be Tizen OS). Instead, he took the backdoor route, that is move it back to Windows.

Looks like Microsoft is going to crash and burn in the mobile apps market, and they might as well take Nokia down that road with them. Sad end to a really great Brand and marks the end of Nordic entrepreneurial engineering prowess and design.