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Google Camera App Review for Android 4.4+

On April 16th Google released a their camera app for all Android devices running 4.4 or higher.  With this app you get some clever and unique new ways to take pictures of your world.  Included are a standard still camera, standard video camera, a lens blur camera, panorama camera, and photo sphere camera.  Below I will highlight each one and the features that come with it.

 

Standard Camera

Google Camera App in Camera Mode
Google Camera App in Camera Mode

The standard camera is, well, pretty standard.  It includes a toggle between front and rear facing cameras.  Flash settings between on, off, and automatic.  An HDR toggle.  Also a toggleable photogrid.

 

Video Camera

Google Camera in Video Mode
Google Camera in Video Mode

The video camera will only take video in landscape mode, which is fine by me as seeing you tube videos of upright phone video bugs me for some reason.  There are toggles for front and rear facing, light on or off, and a photo grid.

 

Lens Blur Camera

image2Proper lens blur is usually reserved for high end cameras with lenses, but google has managed to replicate this effect fairly well by the use of clever coding.  When in this mode you take a picture as you normally would, but then once the photo is taken you move the camera up slightly keeping the main subject centered in the frame.

Image taken using Photo Blur Mode in the Google Camera App
Image taken using Photo Blur Mode in the Google Camera App

What this does is gives the software something to compare to to gather depth information.  It takes a little practice to get the technique down, but once you do you can take some impressive photos.   Although no flash, you can switch from rear and front facing cameras and a photo grid.

 

Panorama Camera

Screenshot of process of taking a panoramic photo with the Google Camera app.
Screenshot of process of taking a panoramic photo with the Google Camera app.

While most panoramic cameras on cell phones have you perform a sweeping motion, Google’s panoramic camera is different.  If your familiar with photoshops photo stitch, the process of taking a panorama is very similar.  You can take a panorama in both portrait and landscape orientations, and you can take them horizontally and vertically as well.  When taking a panorama, there are points laid out along the plane of your choice.  Simply place the target dot within the crosshairs and a photo will automatically be taken.  Once done they will be stitched together in post processing.  For best results, try to keep the point of rotation as close to the center of the camera sensor.   The only option in this mode is whether you want to take a vertical or horizontal panorama.

 

Photo Sphere Camera 

Screenshot of the process of taking a Photo Sphere using Google Camera app.
Screenshot of the process of taking a Photo Sphere using Google Camera app.

Using the same technology from the panoramic camera feature, photo sphere lets you take dozens of shots from one point then stitch them together to create a full 360° photo.  The technology that it uses seems like it is most likely the same code that Google uses for its street view images.  Like the panorama camera, you start by taking the initial reference photo then align the crosshair with the target dots.

Screenshot of the process of taking a Photo Sphere using Google Camera app.
Screenshot of the process of taking a Photo Sphere using Google Camera app.

Keep in mind for best results try to rotate your phone around the center of the camera.  Once you have taken and processed the Photo Sphere, you can view it within the app by either scrolling or using the camera as a viewport.

 

Final Thoughts

After playing with the different features for the last few days I can say im really impressed with what this camera app has to offer.  Google definitely went for a less is more type of feel and there are no large buttons taking you to Google+.  I am a particular fan of the lens blur feature as this was typically something that either took time on photoshop or an expensive camera to accomplish.  If your phone has proprietary photo taking software, such as HTC’s Zoe, you won’t see that here.   That aside, I would highly recommend this to anyone with a device capable of running it.   Personally it has become my primary means of taking photos.

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Apple Applies for Transparent Texting Patent

Getting a phone call from a friend these days can be a strange experience.  Texting has become the norm, and speaking from experience, I’ve tried to do nearly everything while sending a message.  Cooking, watching TV, between YouTube videos, during YouTube videos, working out, and of course while walking.  We have all seen the videos; people walking into walls, fountains, and into canals.  Most incidents aren’t serious, some are even comical.  But many people have gotten hurt.  Apple is trying to reduce this phenomenon, or at least own the rights to the technology that could reduce it.

Artist rendition of transparent texting on apple devices
Artist rendition of transparent texting on apple devices

On March 27th, Apple Inc. applied for a patent that would give them the ownership to the rights of an electronic device’s ability to stream any rear facing video camera imagery onto the background of SMS messages.  A brilliantly simple idea that will surely prevent many people from falling into fountains.

Now keep in mind, I’m a tech guy. I speak some “legalese” but I am by no means a lawyer.  That being said, I took a look over the claims set forth in the patent application.  This may affect more than keeping you from becoming a viral video. It seems the wording implies that any device that uses a camera, a CPU to render video, and can send text messages won’t be able to use this technology without infringing on this patent.  With the rise of wearable technology, I could see situations where having a SMS message with a simulated transparent background could be beneficial, if not necessary.

Again, not being a lawyer, I can’t say for certain that this would affect Google Glass.  It’s no mystery that Apple is out for blood when it comes to Google.  And getting a patent that could have a direct effect on Google’s newest piece of technology is an aggressive move. Google Glass’ imagery is being reflected onto an already transparent display which may keep them out of the realm of copyright infringement.  But whether the patent is even granted is yet to be seen.

Battery consumption and patent issues aside, I think that  this is still a great idea. One I am looking forward to seeing where they can take it.  Be sure to comment below and let us know your opinion on this tech, where it can go, and the advantages Apple would have in owning the rights to this.