Apple patent could bring social sharing to your iPhone camera flash
posted Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 2:08 PM EDT
Apple has just been awarded a patent that could turn the very act of using an off-camera flash into a social activity. The patent would allow your iPhone to tap into other phones to use as slave flashes to light a scene, letting you slave everyone's little LED flashes into one shot of sufficient illumination.
More than just taking control of the other devices, the patent also covers a method for appropriately exposing with a variety of different light sources. The system would take a photo with the master unit, analyze the image, adjust the brightness for each light source, and then take a second shot — which would hopefully come out appropriately lit.
The patent application describes the new technology as:
"A method for capturing an image comprising: initiating a master-slave relationship between an image capture device and an at least one secondary device; remotely activating one of an at least one light source of the at least one secondary device; capturing a test image of a scene illuminated by the at least one light source by the image capture device; analyzing the test image to determine if an illumination of the scene should be adjusted; and if the illumination of the scene is to be adjusted, providing a control signal to at least one secondary device including at least one of a position instruction, an intensity level, or timing data."
What's interesting here is that not only does it appear to be informing the slave device of how bright to flash, but also controlling for position, which implies some sort of knowledge of where the slave device is. The devices would probably be linked through Bluetooth or a local Wi-Fi network.
The immediate application of this technology is pretty obvious. If you're snapping pics at a party, and your iPhone's LED flash is feeling a bit underwhelming, you could rope a few friends into providing some off camera illumination.
The problem, however, is the extremely broad language in the patent. Apple isn't just snagging this for smartphones, it applies to any and all cameras, too. As the patent states:
"...while examples disclosed herein may focus on utilizing a smart phone or mobile computing device, it should be appreciated that the concepts disclosed herein may equally apply to other image capturing devices and light sources. Similarly, although the illumination system may be discussed with respect to activating a series of light sources, the devices and techniques disclosed herein are equally applicable to any type of output. Accordingly, the discussion of any embodiment is meant only to be an example and is not intended to suggest that the scope of the disclosure, including the claims, is limited to these examples."
Since the control and metering method discussed here is very different from your usual strobe setup, Apple was able to grab a patent that covers a realm of technology that they've never really pushed into before.
What remains to be seen is if this patent ever actually gets turned into a product, and if it will ever move beyond just being used for mobile devices.