More than a decade ago, Steve Jobs likely had something in mind for the iPhone camera that was finally realized this week. iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro have the ability to capture depth data from photos with people or pets, allowing you to adjust the focus after the shot. That’s a concept that was reportedly on Jobs’ radar before his death in 2011.
Apple introduced Portrait mode photography on the iPhone 7 Plus. The feature used a dual camera system to capture subjects with artificial blur applied to the background.
Comparisons to the Lytro light field camera were made at the time. Lytro was a lipstick-shaped pocket camera capable of taking photos with focus that could be edited in post. Apple added that ability to Portrait mode photos on the iPhone 15 and other phones this week.
iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro go one step further. If the camera system detects a person, cat, or dog in the shot, it will automatically capture depth data without using Portrait mode. This lets you adjust the depth effect or edit the subject focus after the fact without using a separate camera mode.
These all sound like features that Steve Jobs may have envisioned for the iPhone camera system. Jobs met with Lytro founder Ren Ng and received a demo of the Lytro camera before it launched. That’s according to Adam Lashinsky’s Inside Apple book from 2012.
The company’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.” Ng, who is thirty-two, 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.
Lytro would go on to release its light field camera, but the iPhone was already dominating mobile photography by then. As for Apple, it was granted a patent for a camera system with the ability to change the focal point in post. A decade later, this is now how the iPhone camera system works.