Friday, October 12, 2012

How to Take Better Photos With Your Smartphone

How to Take Better Photos With Your Smartphone

There's a large contingent of photo enthusiasts online who will dismiss a photo straight away if they find out it was taken with a smartphone. The rally cry of "get a real camera" can be heard echoing through the rafters of comment sections for many websites. We think everyone should have a dedicated camera, but a good photo is a good photo, regardless of the gear used to take it.
Camera phones have some inherent strengths and weaknesses, and by emphasizing the good and downplaying the bad, you can take silence naysayers before they can get to the enter key. Here are some things to keep in mind when firing up the photo app on your iPhone, Droid, Lumia or whatever.
Smartphone cameras have gotten much better over the last couple of years. You can get some very good results with them—especially if you know what you're doing. PopPhoto.comput together a great tutorial on getting the most from your smartphone camera.

Get close

How to Take Better Photos With Your SmartphoneMany cell phone cameras, especially the iPhone, really start to shine when you bring them in close to your subject. The small sensor provides a relatively wide depth of field so you can get entire objects in focus where cameras with bigger sensors and longer lenses would have trouble.
When getting close, you can also usually have more control over the lighting of your subject. Are bright patches in the background of your composition throwing off the camera's meter and making your subject dark? Get closer and block it out all together. Small detail shots can be quite effective if done right.
Image: A flattened pellet from an air rifle after having hit a metal target. Shot in flat light, you can see the impressive amount of detail the camera phone lens can pull out of something so small.

Crop, don't zoom

How to Take Better Photos With Your SmartphoneMany smartphone camera offer a digital zoom function, but you're almost always best served by pretending it doesn't exist. Even in the liveview preview, you'll be able to see how noticeably your images degrade the second you start to "zoom." The camera is simply extrapolating what's already there and basically guessing what the image looks like. It gets ugly fast.
When you're cropping, however, you're actually just sampling pixel info that was actually recorded. Many smartphones have 8-megapixels of resolution and sometimes more. That means you can crop substantially and still have plenty of resolution left for display on the web. And the lack of gross upscaling artifacts will help mask the fact that it was taken with a phone.
Image: This image of a mountain in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada has been cropped to about half its size. If I had zoomed to get this perspective, much of the fine tree detail would've been lost. It was shot through a car window, so the distortion visible in the frame would also have been augmented.

Edit, don't filter

If you want your images to be unique, the last thing you should do is paint them with the same filters that literally millions of other people are using. For the record, I'm not anti-Instagram. I think the sharing element is fantastic, but the pre-determined "retro" washes are played out. And that goes for every other app slinging the same stuff.
I suggest getting a full-on image editing app like the excellent SnapSeedPhotoshop Express, or iPhoto. They'll let you make reasonable adjustments, like contrast, sharpness, and color temperature. Stuff you'd actually do with images from your big camera. It's also not crazy to dump your images into Lightroom or another piece of editing software if you don't feel the need to share them right away. OK, it's a little crazy, but people do it.
It's with this decision that you can actually begin to choose your own style, or even extend the style you've already developed outside of your smartphone. It's a heck of a lot more effective than picking your favorite Hipstamatic filter and slapping it on every photo.
Image: A screen grab from inside the SnapSeed app. It gives you actual image editing options rather than trying to cover up flaws with heavy vignetting or unnatural midtone contrast.

Pick a better camera app

This one applies more to iPhone users than Android users, but in any case, the goal is more control. There are a couple of standard choices in this category and any of them will treat you better than the stock camera app. I like Camera Awesome (made by SmugMug) because it allows you to shoot in bursts and separates the AF lock from the exposure lock. It's also free. Other apps like Camera+ have similar options for more controlled shooting.
Whatever you pick, it's worth it to spend a little time really getting used to it. It seems silly to take out your phone and practice taking pictures, but you'll be glad you did it if you manage to catch a great shot while others are still flipping through pages of apps or trying to turn off their stupid flash.
Image: A screenshot taken from inside the Camera Awesome app.

Keep your lens clean

Your pocket is not a clean place, and the grime that lives within loves to glom onto your smartphone camera lens. The result are hazy, dark images that won't look good no matter how many retro filters you slap on them.
The lenses are now remarkably tough, so giving them a quick wipe with a soft cloth can't hurt (and your T-shirt will do OK in a pinch, but try not to make a habit of it). Once in a while, it's worth the effort to break out the lens cleaning solution and really get the grime off of it. It may not look dirty and you might not even notice it in your photos, but often a deep clean will make a difference.

Dropbox v2.2 for Android adds Photos tab, bug fixes

The Android application for the popular cloud storage service Dropbox has now been updated. In version 2.2 of the application, users can find a new Photos tab, where they can view all their photos and videos. The uploads option have been moved to the menu in the file browser in the updated version of the app. A host of ‘under-the-hood bug fixes and tune-ups’ have also been introduced. 

In version 2.1 of the updated app, users can find the new upload notifications. Users can automatically upload photos and videos in the background using Wi-Fi or data plans. The updated application brings users up to 3GB of free space for uploading photos automatically (in 500MB increments). Files of any size can be uploaded. 
Photos tab contains all the uploaded photos and videos

Like with every cloud storage service, the Dropbox application for Android users allows them to carry their photos, documents, and videos anywhere. On installing it on your computer, any file saved to Dropbox will automatically be saved to your Android device, and the Dropbox website as well. It is also possible to share the saved files.

Yesterday, Dropbox revamped its mobile site with a new image gallery view. The updated site lets you view your images in a gallery, and looks somewhat similar to changes made earlier this year to the Dropbox app on Android and iOS, as well as the desktop site.

The update to the mobile Dropbox website lets you view your images in a gallery-styled fashion from any mobile device. The new view allows you to scroll through your photos, which are ordered by the date they were uploaded. You can also tap on a photo to view it full-sized and flip through photos. To test it out for yourself, just open on your mobile phone’s browser, tap on the Dropbox icon at the top, and then tap the Photos button to view your photos in the Camera Uploads folder in gallery format.

Dropbox has been making improvements like these for a long time and this looks like part of its effort to let users have a consistent experience irrespective of the platform they use to access the service. This change to the Dropbox website should make the service accessible to people with Windows Phone devices, as Dropbox still has to release a native app for this platform.

The changes to the Android and iOS Dropbox apps earlier this year let you bring your photos and videos to one place, in addition to letting you have the option of automatically uploading photos to Dropbox using Wi-Fi or through wireless data. The photos are all uploaded at full size and quality and are saved to a private folder on your Dropbox account called Camera Uploads. 

Dropbox has also updated its iOS app with options that let you share your content on Facebook and Twitter. Moreover, the company recently announced Facebook Groups integration which lets you share content from your Dropbox account from right inside Facebook Groups.

Apple 'likely' to unveil 'iPad mini' at event on Oct. 23 - report

Apple is now expected to hold a briefing on Tuesday, Oct. 23, to unveil its smaller 7.85-inch iPad, with a product launch expected to follow soon after.
John Paczkowski of All Things D reported on Friday that Apple is "likely" to hold the event on Oct. 23. That's two days before the company is set to report its September quarter earnings, and three days before Microsoft will launch its Surface tablet.

The event is expected to be held at Apple's Town Hall Auditorium on its Cupertino, Calif., headquarters. The venue is smaller than the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts where other product unveilings, like last months' iPhone 5 have occurred, but the on-campus site has been home to the unveilings of the iPhone 4S, redesigned MacBook Air, and OS X Lion.

Paczkowski noted of Apple going with a smaller venue that the company "already held its big fall event." In addition to revealing the iPhone 5 last month, Apple also unveiled its new iPod lineup.

Black Rendering

Source: Martin Hajek

"The company pulled out all the stops for that one, holding it at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and recruiting Foo Fighters to close the show," he wrote. "It's hard to imagine it mounting a second production of that caliber in such a short time. More likely that iPad mini's debut will be an intimate affair held closer to home."

The so-called "iPad mini" is expected to be a tablet with a 7.85-inch display that will have a lower pixel density than the high-resolution Retina display on the third-generation iPad. The device is also expected to be thinner and to feature Apple's new Lightning connector that debuted on the iPhone 5.

Google releases new Play Store update, brings some much needed changes

Google has released v3.9.16 of the Play Store application for Android and with it come some useful new features. One of the new features is the ability to delete apps from your ‘All’ apps list within ‘My Apps’. Anyone who has been using Android for a while will know that this list is cluttered with useless apps that you only downloaded once and then deleted but are now permanently part of that list. Well, not anymore.

Applications in this list that are currently not installed on your device will now have a delete button next to them, so you can instantly remove them from the list. Moreover, you can now press and hold over these items and delete a whole bunch of them simultaneously.
Another useful new change is that the Play Store app finally remembers your position in a list. Before, if you scrolled down a list and clicked on an item and then went back, you’d go at the top of the list. This would be extremely frustrating of you had scrolled down a lot. Now, the app remembers your position, so you can go back and continue scrolling down from where you left off.
Other minor changes include new notification icons that appear when there is an update available, along with expandable notification option. Your phone will now also show the icon for the app that you updated instead of the same generic icon it showed before. The new Play Store app is also smaller in size than previous versions.
The update is rolling out now so you’ll have to wait for it to arrive on your device. Alternatively, you can click on the source link below and head over to Android Police, who have uploaded the APK for your downloading pleasure.

Upcoming Gmail 4.2 for Android will brings pinch to zoom and swipe to delete gestures

An upcoming version 4.2 of the Gmail app has been spotted in the wild and has two new features, one of which was right on top of the most requested features for this app.
Yes, v4.2 finally allows you to pinch to zoom within an email. If you’re someone like us who receives a ton of press releases every day or simply mails that are formatted for the big display on desktop computers, you’d know how useful this feature is.
The other new feature is that you can now swipe on a mail to delete it. Once you swipe, you get two options; you can either choose to archive the message instead of permanently deleting it or press the undo button, in case you change your mind.
The update is not rolling out yet but hopefully, will soon. Meanwhile, you can catch a video of the two features in action below, courtesy of Android Police.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Apple investigating handwriting and selective touch recognition

A pair of patent applications published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday reveal Apple is investigating the use of heuristics in its mobile devices to deliver a more realistic digital representation of handwriting, as well as selective touch input that ignores extraneous touch events. 

Handwriting Recognition

First filed for in 2011, Apple's "Handwriting capture techniques" describes a set of rules used to render a digital replica of a person's handwriting, or more specifically, how a touch-capable device translates user input into a representation visually similar to handwriting. 

Handwriting Recognition

Source: USPTO

From the patent application's abstract:

A set of rules is used by a processor of a device to render a digital image of handwriting (e.g., handwritten signature) by connecting data points captured on a touch sensitive surface of the device with line segments or curves.

The patent looks to solve the problem that arises from collecting and processing a multitude of input data, in this case touch event points, which can be difficult if a stylus or finger is quickly moved across a touch sensitive surface. Tailored for "devices capable of capturing only a few signature data points per second," the invention allows for a more natural representation of a signature or handwritten line when the number of given data points would otherwise be inadequate. 

For example, many parcel delivery companies employ a portable signature capture device to facilitate quick and secure service. Usually, the device lacks the processing power to capture enough data points to display a smooth and continuous representation of a customer's handwritten signature. 

To overcome this apparent inadequacy found in some devices, Apple's patent leverages a predetermined set of rules to connect the space between two input points by a either a line segment or curve. If the device determines that a curve is needed, a "smoothness adjustment factor" is applied to reduce or maintain smoothing depending on the length between said input points. 

Data Points

Illustration of data points.

Key to the system's functionality is the calculation of velocity and direction, both of which are used in tandem to determine whether a straight line or curve is rendered between two points. 

It is important to note that Apple's patent can be implemented for both stylus and finger input, meaning the invention is suitable for devices like the iPad. 

There are a number of apps currently on the App Store that take advantage of the iDevice's touch input system to reproduce handwriting, such as Square's credit card system and various drawing apps. 

Selective Touch

The second touch-related application published on Thursday was Apple's "Region Activation for Touch Sensitive Surface," which describes a system in which extraneous touch events recognized outside of so-called "active regions" are ignored. 

Apple's invention fits perfectly with the handwriting recognition patent described above. As described in the filing's background, when a device is capturing handwritten notes or signatures, a user is apt to rest their palm on the touch sensitive surface for support. This can cause errant touch events, triggering unwanted results. 

Selective Touch

Example of active region.

From the filing's background:

To avoid such inadvertent touch input, the user can elevate their hand above the touch surface when writing. This workaround can be awkward and tiring to the user.

The application suggests that by defining "active regions," inadvertent touch events can be avoided. A region, or regions, can be activated by the user, and any touch event starting in that area is logged and displayed on screen. Touch events not started within the active region or "not associated with the beginning touch event" are ignored. 

A number of implementations are described, one of which contains a visual element like the lines of a virtual notebook that corresponds to the underlying active region. In this example, an indicator denotes where writing input can be entered. Once initiated, the writing gesture will continue to be logged until the user interrupts the process by lifting their finger or stylus from the touch sensitive screen. When writing is complete, the displayed input can be saved on the device for later use.

Another example notes that haptic feedback can be used in lieu of visual indicators. 

Both of Thursday's patent applications credit Lyndley Crumly as inventor, with David Clark in the handwriting recognition invention, and were first filed in April 2011.

Apple invents technique to hide integral internal components in plain sight

An Apple patent filing discovered on Thursday reveals the company is researching a system in which the internals of a device such as the iPhone are hidden behind a "window" that can change states from opaque to transparent, allowing users to reveal a component when it's needed and hide it when it's not.
Hidden Window

Source: USPTO

Apple's patent application, titled "Devices and methods for providing access to internal component," offers a method to conceal components that are needed only temporarily or go unused, examples of which include a biometric sensor, solar panel or light sensor. 

Most noteworthy are so-called "visually-dependent components" which "traditionally required external exposure to light or that emit light." Examples are biometrics, or fingerprint readers, flashes, cameras and light sensors, among others.


Hidden camera and fingerprint sensors.

It seems that the invention is skewed toward a device's aesthetic appearance, as noted in the patent's background:
Furthermore, under the current techniques, adding new components may harm the aesthetic appeal of the device by cluttering the electronic device enclosure, even though these additional components may be seldom or never used by many users. An electronic device that incorporates multiple components may lose its aesthetic appeal when covered by visible components, particularly as compared to a seamless electronic device where very few, if any, components of the electronic device are visible.

While devices come in ever smaller packages, and in the case of the iPhone with few visible components besides the screen, the task of incorporating additional hardware features without sacrificing design has become increasingly difficult. 

What Apple proposes is a system to conceal integral parts that may need to sit near the device's surface for easy access. This system can temporarily or permanently hide a component depending on how often the user chooses to activate its corresponding feature, such as a fingerprint reader. The invention can be further implemented to cover camera assemblies or other commonly-used components to make a device appear monolithic in construction.


Back of iPhone with hidden camera array and flash.

Current devices made by various electronics manufacturers employ similar techniques, for example a smartphone's dedicated capacitive buttons can be "lit up" by LED backlighting when not in use. This methodology doesn't truly hide a component, however, but instead selectively reveals a specific activated area of a touch sensitive surface that is technically never obscured from view. 

Apple's solution calls for a polymer dispersed liquid crystal (PDLC) window, or similar technology, "that can change between opaque and transparent configurations," allowing components to seemingly "appear as from out of nowhere."

Powering the window would be the window controller, which determines when to transition the unit from opaque to transparent, or when to "open and close" the window. To operate the window, an electrode can be used to change the orientation of liquid crystal molecules in the PDLC layer, akin to how LCD display technology works. 

The controller decides when to "open the window" based on a number of inputs which can range from a photo application starting up to reveal a camera, or an unlock screen that would uncover a fingerprint reader. 


Illustration of window controller operation.

Perhaps most interesting is the patent's suggestion to dispose the window behind a transparent OLED display, thereby allowing components to be situated not merely in a device's bezels or backplate, but under the screen itself. 

Transparent OLED

Camera for facial recognition security behind translucent OLED and PDLC window.

While the invention is enticing, it is unclear if and when Apple plans to integrate such a solution into a consumer product. The move to an aluminum uni-body shell with the iPhone 5 limits the utility of the patent moving forward, at least when compared to the previous generation handset's "glass sandwich" design, a prime candidate for the "hidden window" tech. 

Apple filed the patent application in April 2011, with Felix Jose Alvarez Rivera, Richard Hung Minh Dinh and Scott A Myers credited as its inventors.

Newly uncovered threats can track phones using 3G networks

Researchers from the University of Birmingham have uncovered new threats that allow third parties to track the physical presence of mobile phones operating on 3G networks.  

The research team from Birmingham that collaborated with the Technical University of Berlin explains how these vulnerabilities could be exploited to enable ordinary people to find the location of phones, and other 3G-capable devices. It has been revealed that this could enable attackers to track 3G user movements across countries, and even within office buildings -- all this without even knowing phone identities. The flaws affect the latest 3G networks, not just the older generation GSM networks.
Enterprise mobile usage is not completely secure yet despite rise in usage
Physical presence of phones using 3G networks being tracked (Image Credit: Getty Images) 

The team have also proposed solutions to the issue, and are cooperating with standards organisations, and network operators to promote the adoption of privacy-respecting solutions in future mobile networks.

The researchers, in the course of their study, discovered two flaws on the 3G standard, which is implemented on all mobile phones today. It was found that the IMSI paging attack compelled mobile devices to reveal the temporary identity (TMSI) in response to a static identity (IMSI) paging request. This can reveal the presence of devices in a monitored area by correlating the IMSI and TMSI.  Another attack involves the Authentication and Key Agreement (AKA) protocol of the phone. By distinguishing two different error replies from a phone, an attacker can send a message that allows him to determine if a certain phone is nearby or not.

To demonstrate the vulnerabilities, the researchers used an off-the-shelf femtocell unit that had been modified with new software created by the Berlin group. The attacks were then made by intercepting, altering and injecting 3G Layer-3 messages into the communication between the base station, and mobile phones in both directions. The research team tested the vulnerabilities on network providers including T-Mobile, Vodafone and O2, and the French SFR.

Mark Ryan, Professor in Computer Security at the University of Birmingham, who led the study, said, "The attacks could be used to track staff movements within a building. It could be used by stalkers who want to follow indiviuals, or spouses that want to track their partner's movements".

"To exploit the vulnerability, the employer would need to capture wireless data from the phone as it interacted with a normal base station.  This could happen in a different area than the monitored one. Then the employer would position their femtocell near the entrance of the building. Movements inside the building could be tracked as well by placing additional devices to cover different areas of the building," said Dr Myrto Arapinis from the University of Birmingham’s School of Computer Science. 

The team have come up with a way to fix the problem. "Our paper details modifications of the 3G protocols that we have proposed in order to overcome these vulnerabilities", Loretta Mancini from Birmingham, said.  

To fix the vulnerabilities, the researchers proposed employing new methods that prevent an attacker from being able to link different occasions when the phone is being used. Their proposed solution employs the use of public-key cryptography, a particular type of encryption that mobile operators have been refraining from using because of the difficulties in implementing it. The researchers have found that this kind of encryption needs to be deployed within their networks to thwart a privacy attack. The researchers took care to devise solutions that minimise the use of public-key cryptography in order to reduce deployment difficulties.

"The solutions we propose show that privacy friendly measures could be adopted by the next generation of mobile telephony standards while keeping low the computational and economical cost of implementing them", says Dr Eike Ritter, also part of the Birmingham team. "We are endeavouring to work with the 3G standards organisations to achieve that."

"Since we use wireless technology for all aspects of our lives, from transport tickets like London's Oyster card to wireless payment cards and door-entry fobs, there is a risk of being tracked by third parties like neighbours, family and colleagues", said Ryan. 

"Online services like those of Facebook and Google also monitor users' behaviour", said Arapinis, "and we are proposing ways in which that monitoring could be limited."

This research will be presented at the ACM conference on Computer and Communications Security in Raleigh, North Carolina on Tuesday October 16, 2012. 

Apple - iPod - TV Ad - Bounce

Every iPod now in color.

Apple - iPod - TV Ad - Bounce