Apple's newest hire could mean a serious photographic speed boost in future iPhones. The company has recently acquired SnappyLabs, the company behind SnappyCam, a now removed app capable of taking up to 20fps bursts at full size on the iPhone (and up to 60fps if smaller). With the hire of developer John Papandriopoulos, Apple could seem some dramatic improvements in how the iPhone takes photos on the quick.
The app has been pulled off the app store, and the SnappyLabs website been scrubbed clean. But it seems this incredible speed was achieved by Papandriopoulos massively overhauling JPEG compression techniques in order to make them work specifically with the architecture and hardware of the iPhone. As he explained in a now removed blogpost:
“First we studied the fast discrete cosine transform (DCT) algorithms…We then extended some of that research to create a new algorithm that’s a good fit for the ARM NEON SIMD co-processor instruction set architecture. The final implementation comprises nearly 10,000 lines of hand-tuned assembly code, and over 20,000 lines of low-level C code. (In comparison, the SnappyCam app comprises almost 50,000 lines of Objective C code.)
JPEG compression comprises two parts: the DCT (above), and a lossless Huffman compression stage that forms a compact JPEG file. Having developed a blazing fast DCT implementation, Huffman then became a bottleneck. We innovated on that portion with tight hand-tuned assembly code that leverages special features of the ARM processor instruction set to make it as fast as possible.”
Unfortunately, this now means that SnappyCam has been removed from sale, so if you're hearing about it, it's a bit too late to jump on board with the app. But hopefully it means that Apple will be able to natively add those same features to the iPhone, maybe even to existing models, rather than just new ones. After all, Apple made a pretty big deal of the 10fps burst mode, and 120fps video on the iPhone 5s. Doubling the camera's speed would be no small feat.