Thought Leadership

April 21, 2015
Computational Photography Will Revolutionize Photo Storage

By Chris Chute and Drew Henry

Computational photography has the potential to impact virtually every type of company involved in photography in any way -- from makers of smartphones to PCs to, naturally, SD memory cards. Because it's driven by software, it doesn't just affect the overall storage capability for large files, but also the processing capacity that drives the software.

And it doesn't matter if your customers are average consumers or professional photographers. Computational photography is going to radically change every segment of the market. In the very near future, it will impact everyone who wants to take a picture.

Here's what you need to know about computational photography to be prepared for the photographic future coming our way.

What computational photography enables

Computational photography is the most dramatic change in the field since digital photography. But unlike digital photography, computational photography doesn't build on the historical context of film, which allowed people to manipulate images within the single composition the shutter captured.

With computational photography, pressing the shutter is just the beginning: Either in the moment or even years later, photographers can shift the axis, make the image appear in 3D, create panoramas and more. Photographers can take higher quality photos in low light, thanks to the improved light sensitivity of the sensors. The sensors can also measure light in depth -- not just horizontally and vertically, as in traditional photography -- enabling the 3D capabilities.

It's endlessly useful for mapping indoor spaces, either in photos or video, to create a perfectly scaled, easily manipulated map that shows the depth of the interior and all its nooks and crannies -- a boon to first responders who need to find people in an emergency and just can't wait for someone to dig up blueprints.

How it will impact storage

In order for users to fully capture the magnitude of possibilities computational photography introduces, it's crucial to have the right storage solution. As computational photography is software-based, it will likely affect the need for increased device storage. While IDC predicts that, over time, internal device memory will increase because of usage, there will be an even stronger impact on storage requirements due to the use of features associated with computational photography.

Files that contain many elements are clearly going to be large. Photographers, therefore, will need devices or supplemental cards with the capacity to store an adequate number of photos. No one wants to be caught in a picture-perfect moment with an error message saying, "Memory is full." By the time you rush to free up space, the moment will be gone.

IDC also foresees that vendors will meet these requirements in two ways:

  • Increasing the host internal storage capacity and performance to allow for advanced applications driven by computational photography.
  • Or an increased demand for higher capacity SD and microSD memory cards so that consumers can continue to capture moments without pausing to think about capacity limits.

Internal storage requirements are going to increase exponentially, particularly for mobile devices, but consumers will also want the flexibility to use additional storage in the form of SD or microSD memory cards. Devices, especially tablets, will need to be designed to support different options for expanding storage.

Devices with cameras equipped for higher performance capabilities, for example, are built to support the next-generation higher-capacity card designs just being introduced to the market. Users are beginning to purchase higher speed class cards with faster processing speeds, demonstrating that it's not just a question of squeezing more storage on a card. It's also about how quickly the card can write and read the data. More vendors will include a microSD slot, particularly in tablets. In this way, consumers will enjoy the flexibility of being able to add their own cards and expand storage to meet their individual needs.

How it will change device architectures

To stay competitive, devices must be designed with robust storage and processing specs. If you underspec devices, there's no way that your organization will be able to provide an adequate user experience, and customers will look elsewhere. Burst mode, for example, takes dozens of photos in a matter of seconds. But if the processing speed for large files lags, the burst will end up being more of a whimper. You'll miss the moment you want to capture.

Professional photographers need the right architecture to reliably access and edit photos without waiting for the computer to catch up. No one likes to sit around watching a pinwheel on their screen when there's work to be done. They'll also need devices designed with all the knobs and buttons necessary to efficiently manipulate images.

How app development will affect storage design

Each of us has a powerful, inexpensive device in our pocket to capture pictures. That accessibility, combined with the power of computational photography, opens up a whole new world of application development -- apps that we can't even dream of yet. But if people can't use those apps on their device, there's no way that your company will be able to stay competitive.

The people developing new storage technology must closely align themselves with app developers to ensure devices are equipped to fully exploit the high performance digital photography apps coming onto the market now and long into the future. If you're working with the latest generation apps, you'll likely need high performance and need high capacity storage to take advantage of all that's possible.

There's a transformation happening in the mobile experience. To stay relevant, devices absolutely must have the storage architecture and application processing speed required for computational photography.

By making sure you anticipate where the industry is going, you actually have an opportunity to transform its future. The mission is clear: Anticipate the next-generation system and develop the perfect storage solution to pair with it.

Chris Chute serves as vice president in IDC's Global Small/Mid-Sized Business and Digital Imaging Practices. His work focuses on technology trends in digital imaging, including SMB adoption of mobile solutions.

Drew Henry is senior vice president and general manager of Mobile and Connected Solutions at SanDisk. He is responsible for developing and driving the company's embedded product roadmaps.

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