Apple co-founder Steve Jobs drastically revolutionized major industries in his lifetime, including personal computers, music stores, animated films, retail stores, music players, smartphones, and tablet computers. Jobs' biographer Walter Isaacson wrote that the Apple chief also hoped to revolutionize the field of photography, but someone else beat him to the punch. That man was Ren Ng, the founder, CEO and developer of the Lytro Camera, which lets the user snap photos instantaneously and manually adjust the image's focus and perspective later.
A new book by Fortune's Adam Lashinsky called Inside Apple details a meeting between the two high-tech visionaries.
[Lytro's] CEO, Ren Ng, a brilliant computer scientist with a PhD from Stanford, immediately called Jobs, who picked up the phone and quickly said, 'If you're free this afternoon maybe we would could get together,' Lashinsky wrote. Ng, who is 32, hurried to Palo Alto, showed Jobs a demo of Lytro's technology, discussed cameras and product design with him, and, at Jobs's request, agreed to send him an email outlining three things he'd like Lytro to do with Apple.
Ng described what it was like to meet Jobs:
What struck me the most was how clear his communication was, he told Lashinsky. His eyes were just so brilliant. His glasses kind of levitated off his nose. I told him we drew a lot of inspiration from the iPad. He really smiled. It was clear it resonated.
Apple has impressive cameras built into its thinly-built iPhones and iPads, but nothing compares to the power of the Lytro Camera. The Lytro camera features an 8x optical zoom, and is available in 8 GB or 16 GB, which can hold 350 or 750 photos, respectively. Unlike every other camera on the market, however, Lytro addresses the camera's one consistent imperfection: shutter lag. Too many fleeting moments and perfect shots have been missed due to finicky auto-focusing or time-consuming manual-focusing, but that problem is a thing of the past, thanks to the Lytro Camera.
We can just make a better product this way, and really show what we can do, Ng said. The big camera makers are mostly polishing existing technology, and we didn't want to do this in an incremental way.
Lytro's new device, which is shaped like a high-tech tube of lipstick, captures 11 million light rays and instantaneously records aspects of light including color, intensity and direction. The camera collects and combines raw light data with a unique sensor called a microlens array, which is at the very heart of Lytro's invention, to capture images the moment they happen. The cameras capture enough data to create 3-D images, which can be viewed on the computer screen with 3-D glasses. Later, users can revisit their photos on a Mac and experiment with placing different parts of the image in the background and foreground. By simply clicking any part of the photo, the image automatically adjusts to the new focal point, which gives photographers the ability to effectively create the perfect photo every time.
They become interactive, living pictures, Ng said of his invention.
Furthermore, Lytro Camera photos can be uploaded to Facebook, Twitter, or even blogs, where friends can get a chance to interact and play around with the photo's focus.
Apple's custom-made 8MP camera, built into the top left corner of the iPhone 4S, features a custom lens with a large f/2.4 aperature, an improved backside illumination sensor, auto white balance, advanced color accuracy, face detection, and reduced motion blur. It's an incredible achievement to build such a strong camera into such a small device, but by working with Lytro, Apple has an incredible opportunity to do so much more.
What Lytro Camera Can Offer Apple
We see technology companies all the time, but it's rare that someone comes along with something that is this much of a breakthrough, said Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, an investor in Lytro. It's super exciting.
Lytro and Apple have a lot in common: Visionary founders, an eye for attractive and fashionable designs, and most importantly, a penchant for simplicity. Like Apple's most famous products such as the iPod and iPhone, the Lytro camera is a complete departure from other cameras on the market, with no autofocus, shutter, modes, dials or settings. The camera doesn't even feature flash since it can easily handle low-light settings. It features a USB port, a power button, and that's it. Besides that, taking a picture is as simple as pointing and clicking.
We have always admired Apple and share their dedication to innovation, Lytro said in a statement. It's in that spirit that we had the pleasure to meet with Mr. Jobs prior to his passing and to show him what Lytro was working on as a result of his interest in the technology. We cannot provide comment on any past, existing or pending business relationships.
Lytro has a lot to offer Apple. Its small, colorful, lightweight invention is a remarkable achievement for cameras, and with Ng's dedicated team of engineers and camera makers, Lytro can find a way to fit its technology, which captures far more information than any other camera on the market, into Apple's ever-thinning iOS devices.
Lytro is years ahead of other camera makers, including the traditional giants such as Nikon and Canon, and it only makes sense that two companies continuing to revolutionize their respective fields should work together in harmony. If Apple wants to continue innovating at the highest level, it needs the expertise at Lytro to build the best product possible.
The Lytro camera, which is accepting pre-orders for an early 2012 release, comes in three colors, including red hot, electric blue and graphite. The camera will only be compatible with Mac computers running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or higher at launch. Pricing starts at $399.