A former Google exec just dissed Android photography big time

7 min read

Android phones might have larger screens, bigger batteries, and headphone jacks, but there’s one thing the iPhone has going for it that’s consistent every year: better cameras.

It’s not just Apple fans that thinks so, either. In a postshared on Facebook, ex-Google SVP of Social Vic Gundotra declared theiPhone 7 Plus’sphotos taken with its Portrait mode “stunning” and the “end of the DSLR for most people.” He then blamed Android’s open source design for its photography shortcomings. Ouch.

The iPhone 7 Plus’s Portrait modeis really impressive— the dual cameras and image signal processor crunch billions of computations on each photo where the “depth effect” is applied — but Android phones like the Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel have caught up in other ways. Hell, the OnePlus 5 even apes the iPhone 7 Plus’s dual cameras and Portrait mode.

But as good as the cameras on Android phones are, Gundotra thinks the iPhone still has better shooters.

Replying to a comment that the Galaxy S8 takes better photos than the iPhone 7, Gundotra shut down the claims.

He said he “would never use an Android phone for photos!” and then slammed Android’s source code and its slow-moving hardware and software camera integrations for the devices’ poor photos.

  • Here is the problem: It’s Android. Android is an open source (mostly) operating system that has to be neutral to all parties. This sounds good until you get into the details. Ever wonder why a Samsung phone has a confused and bewildering array of photo options? Should I use the Samsung Camera? Or the Android Camera? Samsung gallery or Google Photos?
  • It’s because when Samsung innovates with the underlying hardware (like a better camera) they have to convince Google to allow that innovation to be surfaced to other applications via the appropriate API. That can take YEARS.
  • Also the greatest innovation isn’t even happening at the hardware level – it’s happening at the computational photography level. (Google was crushing this 5 years ago – they had had “auto awesome” that used AI techniques to automatically remove wrinkles, whiten teeth, add vignetting, etc… but recently Google has fallen back).
  • Apple doesn’t have all these constraints. They innovate in the underlying hardware, and just simply update the software with their latest innovations (like portrait mode) and ship it.
  • Bottom line: If you truly care about great photography, you own an iPhone. If you don’t mind being a few years behind, buy an Android.
  • Gundotra was the head of Google+ before heleft Google in 2014, and while the social network did have some intelligent photo capabilities like the “Auto Awesome” mode he praises, Google has made serious moves to up its photography game (and not just for Android).

Google Photosis incredible, not just because it offers free unlimited photo and video storage (so long as you’re okay with the 16-megapixel photos and 1080p resolution caps), but because it’s leveraging a boatload of AI to transform your lousy photos into Instagram-worthy ones.

And the service is only getting better. At I/O,Google Lenswas announced, which’ll use computer vision to tell you what’s happeningina photo and tell you important information such as location, contact, and search results.

On top of that, Google’s ownPixel phoneshave knocked down the walls of conventional mobile photography. Despite having camera sensors that are inferior to competing phones, the Pixel often manages to take better photos (especially in low light) by using smarter software to take multiple photos and then stack them together for a perfectly-exposed final photo. I mean,just look at these samples. They’re just stunning.

It’s debatable which phone (iPhone or Android’s 2017 flagship phones) takes the best photo. Gundotra’s right that the iPhone 7 takes amazing photos, but he’s also wrong that Android phones are a few years behind. They’re a lot closer than he realizes.


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