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."

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
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is Android Central's Senior Editor of Asia. In his current role, he oversees the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, networking products, and AV gear. He has been testing phones for over a decade, and has extensive experience in mobile hardware and the global semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.