What Nokia’s PureView Imaging Technology Could Bring to Windows Phone

Earlier this year, Nokia unveiled their new imaging flagship, the PureView 808 with a 41MP camera sensor. Yes, you read that right: forty one megapixels. Given Nokia’s PureView research had started about 5 years ago, and the limitations of the current Windows Phone 7 devices, the 808 had to run Nokia’s old and battered Symbian OS, despite their current focus on Windows Phone with the Lumia range.

Following the positive praise for the PureView 808 in the tech world, and taking into consideration Nokia’s back-to-the-wall state and the imminent arrival of Windows Phone 8 that should lift some of the limitations, it has been all but confirmed that a Nokia PureView device running Windows Phone 8 will be announced during Nokia World next month.

I have had a Nokia PureView 808 in my hands for the past couple of weeks, trying and enjoying the camera in different conditions, and I am quite convinced that there’s a lot of potential in bringing this technology to the Windows Phone platform.

What Exactly Is Pureview?

Before we delve into the benefits that PureView could bring to the Windows Phone platform, let’s try to explain what that imaging technology really is. Basically, it starts with one huge lens sensor: at 1/1.2″, it’s 2.5 times larger than Nokia’s previous imaging flagship, the N8, and even larger than many point-and-shoot cameras.

That large sensor can capture a lot of details, hence the mind-boggling 41MP resolution. However, large resolution imagery isn’t the main purpose of the PureView technology. Its real benefit can be seen in two circumstances:

  • No noise images: instead of capturing super large images, you can set the PureView to take 5MP or 8MP images. However, the sensor will still capture all of the available data, and combine adjacent pixels into one perfect pixel: the pure pixel. This results in incredibly crisp images, that are small enough to be uploaded, stored and shared.
  • Lossless zoom: this is the main reason that the PureView technology was developed. Point-and-shoot cameras offer optical zoom, but to include that kind of mechanism in a phone would require a lot of bulk. Also, in regular camera phones, digital zoom does nothing except stretch pixels without any gain in details. By comparison, the PureView’s ability to capture a lot of detail gives it the power of optical zoom without the need for any moving components. Whether you decide to take a full resolution image and later crop it to reveal the parts that you want, or whether you choose to shoot in 5MP or 8MP and zoom in on the device itself, you will end up with a usable image with no overblown pixels. The same applies for videos, where you can zoom during the recording without losing clarity.
No noise image: 5MP image taken in PureView mode

No noise image: 5MP image taken in PureView mode

Lossless zoom: 5MP photo taken with maximum zoom

Lossless zoom: 5MP photo taken with maximum zoom

Those are not the only advantages that come with the PureView, but they are the main ones. Add to them a lot of imaging settings and options, incredibly crisp audio recording, and you basically have a device that’s better than a standalone camera but that can also make phone calls.

PureView Will Be Windows Phone’s Unique Selling Point

The mobile operating systems war has been a duel between iOS and Android for the past couple of years. Each of these has its unique selling point. iOS comes with Apple’s ecosystem of services, a very intuitive and responsive UI, and an App Store full of high quality apps and games. Android’s advantage is with the tight integration of Google services, an open OS which is a playground of awesomeness for tinkerers with custom ROMs and mods, a Play Store that offers a higher percentage of free/freemium apps and games, and a spread across multiple form factors, brands, specs and price ranges.

When Windows Phone came into the picture, it didn’t have any real unique selling point. The Metro and LiveTiles were as fluid as iOS, but the OS itself was also as closed as Apple’s and lacked the App Store’s appeal. Likewise, the availability of different manufacturers and form factors got it close to Android, but the price was always on the high-end and the lack of geek-friendly openness stood in its way.

With the PureView imaging technology on a Nokia Windows Phone device, the platform finally has something unique to show for itself: want a smartphone with a superb camera that’s a cut above everything else? Get Windows Phone. It’s as simple as that. If you’re willing to compromise on imaging, you can always go for iOS or Android, but if imaging is vital to you and you don’t want to carry a separate camera, then Windows Phone with PureView will be your only choice.

High resolution 34MP widescreen image

High resolution 34MP widescreen image

With PureView, Total Convergence Is Even Closer

So far, Windows Phone devices offer a lot of convergence. There’s Xbox for gaming, Bing Maps —or the even more stellar Nokia Maps— for GPS navigation, Office for work on the go, a great music ecosystem, not to mention the calendar, phone, apps, so on. However, the camera component has been a step behind, with only the limited HTC Titan II sporting a 16MP sensor. The other Windows Phone devices have an 8MP camera at most, and all of them produce good photos but nothing to strike awe or replace a standalone camera for imaging aficionados.

Bringing PureView on board will allow these enthusiasts to dump their standalone cameras even on important occasions, and carry only one device. Not to mention that it’s easier to upload and share images on a phone than it is on a point-and-shoot or DSLR. Hence, a step closer to total convergence.

5MP night shot with the PureView mode

5MP night shot with the PureView mode

PureView Can Bring Back Nokia’s Lost Children

I’ve already seen this effect with the PureView 808. A lot of my friends, veteran Nokia and Symbian fans, had abandoned both the platform and brand for Android or iOS over the past couple of years. However, despite the less than significant changes that the new Belle software introduced in the 808, many of them simply had to get that phone. The PureView 808 was able to bring back many enthusiasts to Nokia, simply because there’s nothing else remotely close on the market, and many concluded that the stellar imaging prowess was enough of an advantage to help them overlook the reasons they left Symbian in the first place.

It is very easy to imagine that effect doubled or tripled with PureView on a Windows Phone. Nokia has always been an innovator of imaging technology, making it one of the main selling points for its loyal customers. With the N80’s 3MP camera in 2005, the N82’s 5MP camera with a Xenon flash in 2007, the N86’s 8MP camera with lossless video zooming in 2009, the N8’s 12MP in 2010, Nokia’s fans have been spoiled with cutting edge imaging on their phones that’s always a few years ahead of the competition. However, this technology kept coming with a non-competitive OS and those fans had to make a tough decision. Many thought that compromising on the camera was more tolerable than compromising on the smartphone capabilities and they moved away.

With PureView on a Windows Phone, there’s no more compromise to be made: they will have superb imaging coupled with a new and flourishing OS, and the choice to come back will be a lot easier than with the PureView 808. I’m obviously speculating, but I’m basing this on my personal thoughts as a previous Nokia/Symbian fan who switched to Android, and the thoughts of many friends who fall in the same category with whom I have discussed this.

8MP image taken with zoom

8MP image taken with zoom

It All Amounts To 2 Magical Words: More Sales

Everything I have talked about above results in one consequence: more Windows Phone sales thanks to the PureView technology. And with more sales comes a bigger market share, which means more developers and accessory providers will be interested in the platform. This will amount to benefits across the Windows Phone ecosystem for any and all users, whether they have a PureView device or not.

The more I think about the potential of PureView on Windows Phone, the more eager I feel while waiting for September to come. How about you?