Whilst I have never been overly motivated to have a portrait mode capable handset. Now I actually have the iPhone X I have enjoyed the odd occasion of trying out the feature. It definitely has some issues, especially using the front facing camera, but does get some great snaps. With that said I think Apple could do much better, and I can’t be the only one.

Self titled Apple analyst Rene Ritchie was critical of the way Google’s Pixel phones capture portrait mode shots. Although I can see the issue he is getting at, I think in many situations Google’s way could be better than Apples.

A picture should be as easy to capture as possible, and the increasing amount of camera options are getting in the way. The view finder is already cramped, and has not taken advantage of bigger screens on the Plus models and most notably the iPhone X. Apple lay out numerous camera options for live shooting, a few of which can be condensed or removed. Does the portrait option really need to be a shooting option? Also who shoots in ‘square’ any more?

More intelligent shooting

The Pixel way of applying the filter afterwards could be easier achieved and applied like HDR mode. The camera could and should be more intelligent and workout that this particular shot is a portrait and give me both pictures on the camera roll. Apple certainly has the ability to do this - according to some, Apple is yet to take full advantage of the huge potential inside the A11 Bionic chip.

I understand that it’s natural for those that have been using iOS devices for a number of years to think the Apple way is the best way. Settling on this decision simply because it’s the way you are used to is closed minded at best. In the case of portrait mode I think the ideal position is somewhere in the middle. Some indication that the image you are taking will create a portrait shot, but the processing and optimisation done afterward.

Users shouldn’t have to decide which ‘scene’ to use, or wonder if their snap will come out ok. Apple and others should be making these decisions for us and streamline the time from deciding to take a picture and pressing the shutter as much as possible. The options should indeed be there for those that want to tune the images to their liking. However in a similar vein to all point and shoot cameras, Apple need to develop a robust ‘auto mode’ and do all the hard work for the user.

Matt Birchler has been digging deep and comparing the differences between Apple and Google between portrait mode approaches and it leads to some interesting comparisons. The great thing about Googles approach is that it will get better and better over time with little input from the user. Using services such as Google photos (unlimited back up until 2020 is given for free with the Pixel 2) will clean up and improve the images over time. As always with anything Google there is a trade off with privacy, so for Apple any improvement would need to be done on device.

Portrait mode can be improved over time, and it is clear Apple are going all in on the dual camera so their attention must turn to improving the experience and the processing. Only then will the iPhone really catch up to the Pixel for ease of use.