Nokia has added another device to its burgeoning Lumia portfolio of smartphones today, with the introduction of the Lumia 925: a sleek, PureView-branded handset that will be its first flagship on T-Mobile U.S. At today’s London launch, Nokia executive VP of smart devices, Jo Harlow, sat down with TechCrunch to field a few questions.
TC: Despite all the focus on your camera technologies with the flagship Lumia devices, Windows Phone still lacks Instagram. How much of a blocker is that, what are you doing to get round it and why is it proving so difficult to get this app?
Harlow: Obviously our goal is to brings great apps to the Windows Phone platform. We have a huge amount of respect for Instagram and we continue to work in that direction and in particular with Microsoft, and with apps like Hipstamatic and the ability to share your pictures on Instagram. But the importance of Hipstamatic isn’t Instagram really — it is the great capabilities that Hipstamatic brings and the community that Oggl represents because they’re a community of people who love photography. And so I think in inspiring that world of consumers then that brings attration from others as well.
I would characterise the competition in Android as more of a spec race than anything else… it’s open but that doesn’t make you first.
We worked very closely with Hipstamatic and shared our portfolio with them, we’ve shared our imaging APIs with them, and that’s where we’d like to work with the developers who can bring even more greate experience to our imaging story.
TC: Are you going to be helping to usher in more new camera apps like Oggl or make more of your own new imaging apps?
Harlow: The first thing we’ve done is make our imaging APIs accessible to developers — whether they’re developing imaging specific apps or in other ways could use the camera in their app — that they could get all the way to the performance of the camera itself. If you look at what’s happened with photography with mobile devices and just how we use pictures you see that what is today is unlikely to be just what is in the future. It’s constantly evolving — now hundreds of millions of pictures are uploaded every day just to social networks. Yes there are imaging specific apps, and there will be more imaging specific apps and communities in the future, but all communities have a deep relationship with pictures because that’s part of the social fabric of our lives these days. And I dont think that changes, that only gets bigger and bigger.
TC: Is the original 808 PureView 41MP technology a bit of a unicorn now with the Lumias? Or are you working toward it with each iteration of the devices? Or is this something that you think you might never have because you’re going for thinner devices?
Harlow: I can’t comment about our portfolio coming in the future, but what I will say about the PureView technology that we developed that uses a 41MP sensor is that it delivers a consumer experience in terms of zooming after you’ve taken the photo. That is a phenomenal experience. That’s something that we think is very interesting to continue to pursue.
TC: So you’re not ruling it out?
Harlow: I’m not ruling it out.
TC: You talk about how you have been able to differentiate on Windows Phone — with hardware design, camera technology and so on — but why couldn’t you have done that on the Android platform? The reality is that Android is dominant, and Windows Phone is very far behind.
Harlow: The dominance of Android is led by Samsung. I think you can see the difficulty that others have in standing out from Samsung even when they have really good devices. I think first of all it comes down to partnership and the partnership that we’ve had with Microsoft in terms of bringing new experiences to the platform as well as our own differentiating experiences. We did not believe we could have that level of partnership with Android — and that’s a key difference.
TC: But Android is open. You can do what you want…
Harlow: To a certain degree yes. But I think I would characterise the competition in Android as more of a spec race than anything else and so there is one partner who is the development partner for any new release of Android and everyone else come some time later, so it’s open but that doesn’t make you first and that doesn’t make you necessarily the most competitive.
TC: I know you can’t comment on future roadmap, but what could Nokia bring to a phablet device, i.e. a larger form factor smartphone, if it decided to play in that space?
Harlow: I think the word is ‘experiences’ because as we are investing in great experiences on our smartphone range it’s logical to think that those experiences we would look to take into other types of form factors and make them compatible with each other. Obviously what we would want in any portfolio is that there’s some consistency in the experience that consumers have of a Nokia product.
Fresh from last week’s Verizon Lumia device launch, Nokia has taken the wraps off a new smartphone in its Windows Phone-based Lumia range at an event in London today. The Lumia 925 is its first flagship for T-Mobile in the U.S. This means that following the Lumia 928 launch on Verizon, and factoring in Nokia’s initial launch of the Lumia 920 on AT&T last year, Nokia now has a flagship Windows Phone ranged on all three major U.S. carriers. Globally the Lumia 925 will be ranged with Vodafone in Europe, coming to markets including Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K. (priced at €469), and in China with China Mobile and China Unicom. The device will ship in June in Europe, with a U.S. launch slated for soon after.
The Windows Phone 8-based 4G Lumia 925 continues Nokia’s strategy of emphasising the camera smarts of its flagships Windows Phones, including PureView branding, Carl Zeiss optics and an 8.7MP lens with image stabilisation tech inside. But the camera hardware in the 925 is a little different to the 928 and 920, with one extra lens. This sixth lens improves photo performance in bright sunlight, according to Nokia, as well as sharing the low light performance abilities of its fellow flagships. In addition to that new camera hardware, the phone includes new software, called Smart Camera, that’s aimed at extending the photography experience by giving users new ways to capture and share photographs.
The camera software on the device includes a burst mode which allows up to 10 shots to be captured at a time. The software also has three new capture modes that take advantage of this burst feature, namely: Best Shot, for composing a composite shot from the best elements of several images; Action Shot for snapping a series of stills of action shots, such as sports, that can then be edited and shared as a sequence; and Motion Focus, a Lytro-style mode that allows the snapper to pick different elements to be in or out of focus after the shot has been taken. Nokia confirmed to TechCrunch that the latter featured is the first bit of software to make use of technology Nokia acquired when it bought imaging company Scalado last July.
“Whatever you do you can go back and edit again and again,” said Jo Harlow, head of Nokia’s smart devices unit — pictured above left, with SVP of product design chief Stefan Pannenbecker at the London launch. “The Nokia smart camera is our latest uniqie experience for our Nokia Lumia portfolio.”
The Smart Camera software is exclusive to the Lumia 925 initially but will be pushed out as an over-the-air update called Amber to Windows Phone 8-based Lumias in Q3, the company said. Nokia looks to be trying to bolster its efforts against Samsung here, which included a raft of new camera features on its flagship Galaxy S4 device, such as Dual-Shot and Drama Shot. The lack of Instagram for Windows Phone continues to hamper Nokia’s photo-focused efforts however, but also today it announced a partnership with Oggl, Hipstamatic’s new photo community app — noting that since Oggl has a relationship with Instagram, users will be able to access the latter service via that app.
Design wise, the Lumia 925 is the first Lumia device to include metallic trim. A silver aluminium band runs around its four edges, and doubles as the phone’s antenna — taking its cues from the iPhone’s design (but with “rigorous testing” to ensure no repeat of antennagate, according to Nokia). The mobile maker’s trademark polycarbonate clads the back of the device, so there’s a two-tone look and feel.
Nokia says the plastic back is designed to make it feel nicer and grippier in the hand. It may also be about keeping the weight down (to 139g), since heavy handsets is something Nokia has been criticised for. It certainly felt lightweight and slender during a brief hands on. Handset colour options are muted rather than the usual bold Lumia offerings, with black, white and grey options for the plastic back. Wireless charging shells, sold separately, can reintroduce the usual Lumia splashes of yellow, cyan and red.
Under the hood there’s a 1.5GHz Dual-Core Snapdragon chip, and 1GB of RAM. On board memory is 16GB (Vodafone will also get a 32GB variant) plus 7GB free cloud storage on Microsoft’s SkyDrive. The 4.5 inch AMOLED display has a resolution of 1280 x 768. Dimensions are 129 x 70.6 x 8.5mm. The 2000mAh battery is good for up to 12.8 hours of talk time on 3G, or up to 6.6 hours video playback, according to Nokia.
A ‘true PureView’ Windows Phone device — codenamed EOS — has been rumoured for several months, and the Lumia 925 looks to be that device. However it certainly does not include the 41MP sensor and pixel oversampling techniques featured in the Symbian-based 808 PureView. It seems unlikely that bona fide PureView technology will ever make it to Windows Phone, not least because it’s something of a camera pro curiosity, rather than a consumer-friendly mainstream feature. Rather Nokia is extending the PureView branding — to associate it with a range of camera-centric features, not just that original huge sensor.
Harlow closed the presentation by hinting at further new device launches from Nokia “later this summer”. “I can’t wait to see you later this summer when we will continue to bring new innovation and new experiences to our Lumia portfolio,” she said.
Adobe is having its annual MAX conference this week, and today it lifted the lid on a number of new products, including Photoshop CC, the new, Creative Cloud-era version of its incredibly popular photo editing application. Photoshop CC is in many ways an evolution of the Photoshop brand, adding some powerful new features while mostly keeping things similar to CS6, but it’s a significant departure in terms of the way Photoshop gets updated, released and sold.
First, the new features, since two in particular are especially impressive: The new camera shake reduction engine looks like an actual miracle worker, and the updated RAW editing engine in CC gets the best of Adobe’s recent Lightroom update, plus the ability to do continuous, non-destructive RAW edits, something which hasn’t been available in the past. That’s thanks to the introduction of RAW editing as a filter, which you can use even with non RAW images to get access to great tools like the Exposure slider.
The Camera Shake Reduction feature magically turns blurry photos into exceptionally crisp ones, or at least it did with the examples Adobe used in its briefing of the feature. Details become sharp, text legible, and you can even follow what exactly it’s doing since you can view the blur path the software has identified and corrected for. Be aware that this is a tool with a very specific use, though; if you’re using a camera in a dark environment and you’re set for a long exposure, it’ll correct for any shakes created by your hand twitching a bit, or if you’re shooting without a tripod with a long zoom, but it has to be motion related. You won’t get a fix for missed focus or any other cause of blur.
Still, for low light shooters who prefer shooting handheld to dragging around a full size tripod, which can really get in the way when you’re looking to capture candids, this is an amazing addition to the Photoshop arsenal, so long as it works in practice half as well as it demos in controlled conditions.
The other big new banner feature is improved RAW editing, and this is another really impressive and powerful feature, especially for photographers. The RAW import dialog on Photoshop is decent, and matches a lot of the features found on Adobe Lightroom, but it’s also limited. Once you’ve accepted your changes, there’s no way to go back and make more tweaks after you’ve begun editing in Photoshop itself. Now, you can jump into RAW editing at any time, and use the RAW editor as a filter layer on top of your original image. You also get some of the great new tricks Lightroom has adopted, like the new customizable shape healing brush, and the Upright horizon and perspective correction tool.
Ohter new features include a redesigned smart sharpen feature, better upsampling when you’re blowing up a lower resolution image, rounded rectangle shapes with editable corners (this has been a very annoying oversight up until now) and multi-shape and path selection, Illustrator-style. There’s also now Behance network integration built right into Photoshop CC.
As mentioned, this also marks a big shift, where it looks like we’ll see Adobe focus exclusively on the Creative Cloud releases of Photoshop in favor of numbered versions, so expect updates to arrive more like they do with something like iOS or Android, with improvements coming as needed instead of lumped into standalone larger releases. All of this comes alongside the rest of Creative Cloud’s latest version on June 17.