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Former Google SVP says Android photography is a few years behind the iPhone

Vic Gundotra worked as an SVP of engineering at Google for nearly eight years before departing the company in 2014. Gundotra was the driving force behind the creation of Google+, and the executive ran Google's mobile efforts from 2007 to 2010.

In a Facebook post, Gundotra praised Apple's computational photography chops when it comes to the portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus, calling the results "stunning."

https://www.facebook.com/vicgundotra/posts/10154573133695706

In portrait mode, the iPhone 7 Plus uses both camera lenses to create a depth of field effect, making the subject stand out by blurring out the background. Recent Android devices like the OnePlus 5 also offer the feature, but the software processing isn't quite at the same level as the iPhone 7 Plus.

Gundotra touched on the subject when a commenter pointed out that the camera on the Galaxy S8 does a better job than the iPhone 7. Gundotra replied that Google "has fallen back" when it comes to computational photography, and that Android phones are a few years behind the iPhone:

Here is the problem: It's Android. Android is an open source (mostly) operating system that has to be neutral to all parties. This sounds good until you get into the details. Ever wonder why a Samsung phone has a confused and bewildering array of photo options? Should I use the Samsung Camera? Or the Android Camera? Samsung gallery or Google Photos?It's because when Samsung innovates with the underlying hardware (like a better camera) they have to convince Google to allow that innovation to be surfaced to other applications via the appropriate API. That can take YEARS.Also the greatest innovation isn't even happening at the hardware level - it's happening at the computational photography level. (Google was crushing this 5 years ago - they had had "auto awesome" that used AI techniques to automatically remove wrinkles, whiten teeth, add vignetting, etc... but recently Google has fallen back).Apple doesn't have all these constraints. They innovate in the underlying hardware, and just simply update the software with their latest innovations (like portrait mode) and ship it.Bottom line: If you truly care about great photography, you own an iPhone. If you don't mind being a few years behind, buy an Android.

Gundotra's comments are particularly interesting because the Google Pixel showcased what the company could achieve through software processing. We conducted a blind camera test between the Galaxy S8, LG G6, Google Pixel, and the iPhone 7 earlier this year, and after 53,000 votes, the Galaxy S8 came out on top as the best overall shooter, followed by the Pixel:

The best smartphone camera, as judged by you!

Even though the likes of the Galaxy S8 and Pixel hold their own next to the iPhone, it looks like the former Google SVP won't be picking up an Android phone again for photography:

Yes it's stunning. By the way, I ran all of Google's mobile efforts from 2007-2010. I was SVP of engineering. So I understand this topic reasonably well. I would NEVER buy an Android phone again if I cared about photography.

What do you guys think of Gundotra's comments about the state of Android photography?

Harish Jonnalagadda
Harish Jonnalagadda

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor covering Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone manufacturers, and writes about the semiconductor industry, storage servers, and audio products. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.

76 Comments
  • Sounds to me like Vic got pushed out and now he is bitter. End of story.
  • Yup, not sure what he's talking in about. Samsung has shown that they've added when needed their own apis (see secure folder, infrared Iris scanner camera and the slew of other features). Considering the Dwayne's glowing ad (which as I recall is illegal in some places without revealing it's paid), would not be surprised a large dump truck if money arrived on his doorstep
  • Yeah, seriously.. Sounds bitter... Who proclaims the phone they took the picture with while posting the pictures? I call bs. My Pixel kills iPhone pics, at least for now.
  • Not just bitter, ridiculous. I hope he got paid for his comments. A few years ago Google was murdering iPhones in picture quality. When Google last released a Pixel it murdered the iPhone in picture quality despite not having OIS. I'm sure when the new Pixel comes out it will once again murder whatever is currently out by Apple. Apple got better at cameras over the years, their new dual camera works great, but they have unique hardware and one software to optimize for, Android must work on everything. There's nothing that Apple has done in terms of their software that is really all that amazing.
  • +1
  • It's funny how he said Android was doing good up until a few years ago. Like they did good when he was there but now that he's not it's gone downhill.
  • totally agree
  • I'd love to leave more comments but Mobile Nations comment system is just suck, why don't they integrate Disqus.
  • I dont like yellow hue covering my pics so I would never use an iPhone camera for any pics where quality was priority.
  • I do wish I had the longer focal length of the iphone 7+. He didn't specifically mention that but as a photographer, just having that makes for better portraits. My wife is an iphone 7+ user and I have the Note 5. I do think her camera is better and that longer focal length option is the feature I want the most. Unfortunately it looks like the new Note will not have that so...not sure what I will upgrade to but I will be considering the new iPhone because of the camera
  • Wow a phone that is one year newer has a better camera? What a shock.
  • I'm not complaining about sensor tech here. I'm saying the telephoto camera option is amazing as a photographer and since it looks like the N8 will not have it and the GS8+ lacks it, I think the iPhone has the upper hand even compared to the newest and best androids.
  • See, here you're talking specific hardware capability of the iPhone camera (focal length), in the article the focus was on software. It's not just the focal length of the main camera that allows the 7+ to take better portraits. Google deliberately chose to use bigger sensors in their recent Nexus/Pixel phones, so due to dimension restrictions the focal length must be kept smaller. There are scenarios where the Pixels will take better pictures than the iPhone 7+ though. What Samsung does is up to them.
  • I agree ds - I have the Note 5 and wish for a zoom on the Note 8. Hope today's leak on tomsguide.com turns out to be true: "It Looks Like Samsung Just Leaked Galaxy Note 8's Camera" - 3x Optical Zoom?
  • Interesting comments, and the portrait mode is pretty awesome, but it's not the whole story. In the past 6 months most of the tech press has commented that the iPhone is actually falling behind in terms of photography, and I'd have to agree. The biggest area where the iPhone struggles is in low light situations, where shots tend to look very grainy and any light sources in the shot look completely blown out. I had a 7+ and a Pixel earlier this year and the Pixel consistently took better shots. Honestly the camera on the iPhone seemed like one of the weaker features.
  • Sorry, when exactly did he get sacked by Google and then employed by Apple? The blind tests that have been done tell a different story Vic. Oh by the way, there is no confusion when using a Samsung phone between using the Samsung camera and the Android camera because there is only a Samsung camera on it. If you do decide to try something else then you are free to do so. I'll stick with my Android phone thanks Vic because the photos are just as good and I have flexibility, choice, customisation and I like to think for myself rather than be told what I should be thinking and I don't have to use the worst software ever developed (iTunes).
  • Samsung and LG phones say hi.
  • Honestly, the new HTC camera is really good too.
  • So I'm guessing that he has never used the Pixel? What's the excuse there then?
  • it's been shown over and over that the top Android devices can keep up with the iPhone and even surpass it in some situations, sounds like the ranting of a crazy man
  • Vic trying to get a job at the spaceship huh? Google is not interested in you anymore so you think bashing the Android camera might get you a job at Apple? Well we all know Vic is a bit of a failure at Google and this seems like petty backlash. He had HUGE funding and power at Google to launch Google+ and kick off Google Photos, yet he completely tanked at both. It took Google separating photos aways from Google+ to save it really. Honestly he can say whatever he wants there have been multiple tests, and surveys with double blind comparisons and the iPhone 7 have lost in all of them to both the S8 and the Pixel and even to the LG in at least one case. I'm not saying the iPhone 7 has a bad camera, but to say just because its portrait mode is good makes it better than the rest is just idiotic.
  • I don't understand his argument. He's saying
    A) Android OEMs can do whatever with their own hardware and software
    B) Android is lagging Which is it ? Given that Android introduced dual-lense cameras, LivePics, post-picture refocusing and generally leads in objective tests I've Apple at a lower price point... I disagree with his conclusion. I'll pit my $250 phone vs whatever used iDevice the same money can't get me anytime.
  • Real world experience last week. On a boardwalk in the evening, my sister-in-law, with her iPhone 7+ was extremely jealous and disappointed with her photos compared to my Pixel. So much that I had to take the photos of her children the rest of the night for her lol.
  • For heaven's sake people, please stop using portrait mode.
  • Sounds like he is stuck in 2010 when he left Google.
  • Also people forget that, it is the skill also matters. Camera can only do so much if I am bad at choosing right settings.
  • +11000000 Exactly! I would agree with him any year prior to 2015. I think when LG released the G4, Samsung the S6.... That's finally when Android phones took decisively better pictures. Video is another story. I still think Apple iPhone has the best video camera, and I would think this should be pretty easy to see. On pictures, iPhone is definitely not up to par with the best of Android. Does it have a better portrait mode? Yes. But that's it. He is being very praising about the entire photography experience based on two things: 1) The portrait mode experience on iPhone and
    2) His experience at old Google.
  • What an Irresponsible and Uninformed Statement from some Seriously Incompetent former Staff of Google.
    If this is his level of independent analysis and thinking, Google should NEVER have hired him. He should probably read DXO labs reports and various shootouts by users by sites such as this (www.androidcentral.com), instead of sounding like some seriouslh foolish nutjob. The fact hat he is an Indian is an Insult to the Illustrious Community of Indians all over the Technology World. I wish they deport him back. And soon.
  • He really needs to get his sorry straight. Must be mad that Google isn't paying him to do nothing anymore. I admit, the iPhone 7 is a great shooter. But lately when I'm with my family who all have iPhone, their always telling me to send them the picture I took because their iPhone picture isn't that clear compared to my Samsung. And my friend just got the u11 and says his iPhone isn't as good either. Man, people really love talking about things they think they know. What matters is real world usage. Oh well, I'm sure Apple is probably going to be sending him an iPhone so he can keep talking lol
  • Unless you think he's lying, you have accept what he's saying about engineering side of the photo processing. I think the Pixel should take the best photos of any android phone if what he says is accurate. The general census among owners/reviewers is it comes down to the S8 or the Pixel as to which takes the best pictures. I do find it interesting that the next Pixel apparently wont have dual cameras though.
  • Dare I say it? I think the dual camera thing is a gimmick. Some manufacturer comes up with it , now we all think every phone has to have it. Maybe I'm wrong. Somehow we are missing out on some kind of feature when we are comparing phones at the same price range.
  • Its a way to simulate depth of field that can't normally achieve because of the limitations of cell phone camera lenses.
  • Not even the 7+ gets that's right though...
    Look at the kids hair, some parts are clear while others are blurry...
  • The dual camera thing is not a gimmick under certain scenarios, but it requires extensive software support to make it work. I for one would rather have OIS than a dual camera, but I understand the scenarios in which there's a benefit to having the second module. The Android problem has always been fragmentation, both in software and hardware. For Apple it is easy, you have one set of unique hardware that you have to optimize the software for, and you have an army of in-house paid developers.
  • It is not a gimmick, the small space in the phone make certain things impossible with a traditional lens.
    It is the same with speakers, why do they sound to thin? because of the same reason. Physics and all that.
  • When it comes to portrait mode, maybe the iPhone has an edge. Outside of that though, there are several Androids that consistently take better photos
  • Not according to reviews of new phones it isn't.
  • I guess he hasnt used honor 8 pro that gives great bokeh effect pics and has more control over it...
  • Lumia was years ahead of both.
  • People downvoting this comment show they either can't be objective or they have no idea about photography and they should stick only to point and click. Lumia phones from 3 years ago still dance around nowadays phones in term of photography. And while talking about that, someone should bring the dedicated shuter button to Android phones.
  • Ironic that the criticism was focused on the Iphone's ability to easily produce Bokeh, or the lack of depth of field. In the old world of photography, the most difficult and sought after trait was depth of field in low light, thus driving the never ending quest for fast lenses. Superb fast lenses often cost more than the SLR -- thousands of dollars.
  • And this is the reason my iPhone caring wife always tells me to pull out my Galaxy s8+ because it takes better pictures. I will admit that portrait mode is amazing on the iPhone 7+, it doesn't tell the full story. I have to disagree with Mr. Gundotra.
  • He's just a bitter ex-employee. He's a jerk. Ignore him.
  • I had a 7+ and used bokeh maybe once. I don't understand its appeal.
  • It is not only about blurring the background (which look nice), it's as well about making super sharp what it is in focus.
  • This guy is an idiot! A lot can and will happen in a few years... This maybe a year behind at most and is only relative to portrait pictures...
  • I wouldn't buy any phone for photography, that's not even considered on the list when I'M buying a phone.
  • umad bro? The bokeh works ok at best on ios, meanwhile google has nailed lowlight image processing. I do miss the randomness of auto awesome though. The assistant is less magical now.
  • Vic Gundotra is clearly out of touch with reality. In addition to other things, I also do professional photography and the photographer I team up with on projects has an iPhone 7 Plus. I drive him to work, and we are constantly taking shots in various locations and while driving. He will come right and say "Your shot is better" on a regular basis, and I've tried to return the compliment, but have trouble finding iPhone shots that actually are better. His iPhone is not my only reference, I also own an iPhone 6S and 7 myself. As far as the Bokeh effect is concerned; Apple's version is sometimes decent, but sometimes has weird edge artifacts. And oddly enough, do you know what often does it as well, and sometimes better, than the iPhone? The old HTC M8. Yeah, I broke the old girl out and we did side by sides of the same subject, and he even felt a bit burned that this old phone could perform the task and make adjustments AFTER the shot. Mind you, the HTC software has been updated many times since the initial release, so the results from old reviews would not apply. The HTC U11 camera I use now is light years better than the M8, but the duo camera had some nice party tricks ;)
  • There's lots of comparison videos out there, and the recent ones like the S8/iPhone 7 Plus/HTC U11 comparisons always show the iPhone as lagging in the results department. You can talk tech all you want, but the proof is in the pudding. Krystal Key has a nice video on it (I watch for the content, not because she's cute), and although the S8 and U11 are trading back and forth for first place a few times, the iPhone practically never comes out on top.
  • Bet he hasn't used a Pixel 😂😂 Sure when he was leading the efforts the cameras were crappy, but over the last year or so Android phones can match iPhone and many instances have overtaken Apple's efforts.
  • iPhone 7+ and Nexus 6P user here. The portrait and optical zoom functions are pretty useful on the iPhone. but the Nexus 6P still holds it's own very well. The "years behind" comment is just stupid.
  • His comments seem to be mostly about portrait mode which is one factor in the package not the whole thing. Maybe that is what is most important to him but not everyone. Those are some great shots and cute kids though.
  • the fact that his post and photo says he can leave his DSLR and use iPhone shows his level of competence and skill level, A decent DSLR in the right hands will destroy an iPhone or an android, but in recent years iPhone's have slipped well down the pecking order of quality to the newest androids, pixel, HTC 11, galaxy s8, LG G6 and so on, there are a raft of androids that beat the iPhone comfortably for now, until the iphone 8 comes out and then the next set of flagship droids beats that as well
  • As an owner of a U11 and iPhone 7 Plus I can confirm that's a load of old bollocks. The only thing the iPhone does marginally better is the bokeh effect, the novelty of which wears off fairly rapidly when you realise it only works in bright daylight.
  • 100% agreed. He is out of his mind.
  • Two words - Paid advertisement
  • I wouldn't say "years" as shown time and time again, the current crop of high end androids (s8/pixel/g6) can go toe to toe with the latest iPhone.
  • If I want bokeh, I'll use a real camera. The portrait mode of iPhone is laughable compared to even the cheapest DSLR with a kit lens. And I'll say the same thing about Android if they add this to future camera update.
  • Most of my friends have iPhones. I have a Galaxy S6. They all have camera envy.
  • Color me triggered, not by the comment that Android is "years behind" (which many others have already disputed, so I won't be participating) but by the comment on DSLRs. Yes, many people won't be getting a DSLR. But that's been a thing for a long while. Their con has always been their large, bulky nature, which was why back then, people opted for a point-and-shoot, which was cheaper, lighter, smaller and gets the job done reasonably well. Since the smartphone has pretty much replaced the point-and-shoot for obvious reasons, the PnS is long dead. But this whole DSLR comparison drives me nuts. A smartphone will never be as good as a DSLR in terms of image quality, at least for several years. The sensor size difference is just overwhelming, and that alone has several advantages. DSLRs also have the advantage of multiple choice of lenses, hotshoe attachments, audio enhancements and more. Perhaps it would make more sense if he had said "dedicated camera". I'm also no fan of software blur from anyone. Bottom line is this. If you truly care for great photography, you wouldn't just point in the general direction and press a shutter. You would dive into controlling major aspects of your camera like ISO and shutter speed, while also tinkering with the RAW files on Lightroom or your RAW processor of choice (mine is Capture One). A smartphone is indeed very capable of great shots, but if you want to go the extra mile, you need a bigger sensor and better glass.
  • Disgruntled employee
    lol
  • Dude worked on Android 7 years ago... Heck I could take better pics with my OP3 than my friends could with their iphones. It's not the camera anymore, it's the person taking the picture.
  • Did he fall, or was he pushed from Google at the time? Because stupidity like that make me inclined to think the latter ....
  • I haven't had iPhone "camera envy" for a few years now. Lets wait for Jerry's comment behind this person's statement. Or maybe not, because it's a load of crap.
  • He's just trying to downplay it because during his time, iphones may have been better. Admitting that android is now better means he was a failure. tl;dr, He is a failure
  • Vic is entitled to his opinion, but I'll tell you this: compared to my s7e, s8+ and U11, the iphone 7 plus does not compete in camera performance. My gf is constantly asking me for my pictures since hers turn out pretty badly in many situations. The iPhone, once king, is very far behind Android. That is a fact.
  • Let's see. Vic moved out of engineering in 2010. In dog years, that's a half century ago, and in Internet years that's a lifetime. When Vic left engineering, the most current Android phone was the Nexus One. How does that relate to anything in the last few years? According to real-world tests, Google and Samsung are see-sawing for top camera billing. Apple tends to rank down at number 6 or thereabout.
    Vic may have his theory (outdated though it may be), but he's contradicted by almost every reputable test, review and blind user poll.
  • You do not need to know about phone engineering to analyze photo quality. Any semi-decent photographer can look at the pictures and figure out it strengths and weaknesses.
  • Sometimes my S8+ snaps better photos, sometimes my 7 Plus wins out. Just depends what I'm shooting and time of day. I will say those photos of his kids look really nice.
  • Paul Thurrot wrote a succinct response to Vic's comments https://www.thurrott.com/mobile/129685/vic-gundotra-wrong-smartphone-cam...
  • Now I know why Sundar Pichai is the CEO of Google. Vic, why u mad?
  • You can pay ppl to say anything these days
  • My Huawei Mate 9 Pro is laughing photographically
  • I see lots of hate here because I guess people can't be objective in a website like this. And because most people do not really know much about photography and all they want is sharp point and click photos.
    But the article has lots of truths. It was even fair saying that Android photography was ahead some years ago but it is been losing its track..
    But it is as well missing 2 key things. First Android is starting to figure out low light processing, which is something really big. At the moment it is not available for every user and only prime phones can have access to this, but I guess it is a matter of time. And the other one is, yes, Apple figured out depth of field, which it is huge, but Apple is behind in low light processing.
    What we need is both things converging into our phones. And Android working in post-processing as hard as Apple has been doing it, because smartphone photography is not only about hardware.
  • Android phones cover a HUGE spectrum in both cost & capabilities. Despite this, frankly Apple have often lagged the best Android phones by 18 months on technical features. Nokia ALONE did more to make phone cameras great than Apple & Samsung combined. Especially in computational photography. Vic is both partisan and full of it. Ignore the him.