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iPhone 5s: Is Apple innovating or playing catch-up?

Florence Ion, Armando Rodriguez | Sept. 12, 2013
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Apple must really love its competition. Although Cook and crew are quick to throw a lawsuit at any company they consider a copy-cat, they aren't afraid to borrow good ideas from competitors and wrap them in glittery buzzwords.

The M7 represents Apple's first effort toward offloading sensor control to a low-power chip, but Motorola's Moto X smartphone uses a similar hardware strategy to power its Touchless Controls. The Moto X's X8 mobile computing system relies on two low-powered cores--working separately from its Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro--to listen for your voice commands at all times, without killing battery life in the process.

Slo-mo video

This is a blatant instance of playing catch-up. Apple isn't the first company to let you shoot slow-motion videos using your phone: Motorola's latest line of Droids and the Moto X have that functionality built-in. Nokia's Lumia 1020 can shoot slow-motion videos, too, and a number of apps on both Android and iOS let you feign bullet time.

Big pixels

Innovation? No, not so much.

Any photography pro will tell you that sensor size matters more than the number of megapixels in your camera. A larger sensor lets you capture more light, giving you the upper hand when you're taking photos in dark spaces. So Apple is definitely moving in a smart direction with its new "bigger pixels" approach. But it's also following others on this path of enlightenment.

HTC was the first major smartphone manufacturer to put bigger (instead of more) pixels in its camera sensors. The iPhone 5s's camera boasts slightly larger pixels than the ones you'd find in most smartphone cameras, but they're still smaller than the 2-micron "ultrapixels" found in the HTC One.

That said, one advantage that the iPhone 5s has over the One is that Apple offers twice the number of megapixels, allowing you to take larger photos and crop images without losing as much clarity.

Dual LED flash

This one's a toss-up. Existing smartphone cameras do have dual camera flashes, but Apple seems to have advanced the technology.

The True Tone dual LED flash on the iPhone 5s emits two different-colored flashes, which Apple says will help balance a scene so your subjects don't look as washed out or sickly. Other smartphone dual-flash systems use the same color for both flashes--and though these systems solve lighting problems with a broad stroke, serious exposure problems often remain.

If Apple's flash implementation works according to plan, it could lead to better-lit photos that don't look as if they were taken at a Dawn of the Dead convention. Real-world testing is needed to bear out Apple's marketing claims.

Burst Mode

Been there, done that. Rapid-fire image capture is nothing new.

Apple doesn't want you to miss a moment. To ensure that, it has packed the iPhone 5s's 8-megapixel camera with a burst mode capable of shooting up to 10 frames per second when you hold down the shutter button. The phone then chooses the best shot of the bunch so you can avoid saving not-so-framable photos of your friends with their eyes closed.


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