According to the late Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs’ biography, there were three industries he wished to reinvent through Apple: textbooks, television, and photography. While Apple has already begun some industry-changing moves in textbooks and is said to be working on some form of larger ideas for its Apple TV technology, it can be said that it has also already changed the photographic world several times — but there may be more to come.
Apple (in partnership with Kodak, ironically) was one of the first to market a consumer-level digital camera, the QuickTake, which debuted in 1994. Well ahead of its time and hobbled by the limits of affordable technology, the camera did not do especially well and is largely forgotten now despite its highly influential role in bringing digital photography into the mainstream. Apple discontinued the camera in 1997 upon Jobs’ return to Apple.
Most competitor camera makers could see the potential of the device, however, and quickly brought out their own digital cameras. Over the next few years, digital cameras gained consumer acceptance that is now the standard and has almost entirely replaced film, even at the most professional levels.
Apple also played an important role in several other areas of photography, including the company’s role in the development the MPEG-4 video standard, panoramic QuickTime VR technology and one of the most popular early webcams, the original Firewire iSight camera (which is still a sought-after collectible for its exceptional-for-webcams lens). More recently, the company has fitted the iPhone 4, 2012 iPad and iPhone 4S withlens technology and processing of high-enough quality to largely replace low-end point and shoot cameras, and the iPhone 4 is currently the most popular camera of any sort on the photo-sharing site Flickr, even (just) beating out clearly superior DSLR models like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II.
The recently-released New iPad Buyers’ Guide published by iOS speciality site iLounge has run a two-page article that posits that Apple may again be preparing to up-end the photographic industry by creating something akin to a point-and-shoot iSight camera. Though clearly labelled as speculation, the site says its information has come from a historically-reliable source.
The article in the guide makes the case for Apple to pursue some of the $68 billion photography market with a dedicated camera of some type. It points to Apple’s very long history of catering to photographers with some of its best software and technology, a possible desire in Apple to improve the experience of using a DSLR-quality camera (which are, even compared to consumer cameras, overly complex and lacking an elegant user interface).
The article also mentions that Jobs personally met with the CEO of Lytro, a company that produces a revolutionary light-field-capturing camera that is currently in the early (and not yet practical) stages of its technological development. Jobs specifically asked Ren Ng to come up with three areas where he would like Apple and Lytro to work together.
The article also suggests that the new product (should it emerge) might re-take the name iSight, which Apple quietly re-trademarked earlier this year. When introducing the high-quality rear cameras in the iPad and iPhone, the company said that when “a camera get of such quality and capability that you’re proud to use it as your everyday camera for photographs, we call it an iSight camera.”
If the company could produce a full camera that could take DSLR-quality images with an iOS-like interface (and perhaps iCloud-based backup) at a reasonable price, the article argues, it would certainly disrupt at least the expensive lower-end DSLR industry by making it more enticing to consumers, while still keeping the most expensive equipment and capabilities exclusive to the range of the pros. The idea would be to bring many DSLR-like capabilities, like flexible depth of field, to consumer-level cameras and midrange prices.
Apple has in fact been hiring camera engineers of late and has capitalized on the iPhone’s photographic abilities in recent ads, and Polaroid founder Edwin Land, who first made “instant photography” a mass-market hit, was one of Jobs’ heroes. But just as there is no actual hard evidence (just plenty of speculation, including from Apple CEO Tim Cook) that Apple will enter the TV set business, neither is there anything solid (beyond good reasoning) that Apple may apply its technology outside its present devices.
Apple officials including both Jobs and Cook have often said that they say “no” to many good ideas in order to keep the company’s focus as clear as possible. While it is fairly obvious that the areas of TV, video, audio and photography interest the company, whether any new products actually reach the market is difficult to gauge. Apple often incorporates lessons learned from one technology into a completely different one, such as the way iChat begat FaceTime or working on the a tablet computer project led to the development of the iPhone.