Google wants Android cameras to be better. While camera quality varies from one Android device to another, Android phones have consistently been a step behind Apple and Nokia phones when it comes to image quality and low-light performance. The recently released Nexus 5 has been criticized for poor color contrast and slow focusing, especially in low light. In our testing, it came up short of the HTC One's camera.
Google wants to make things better. And not just for the Nexus 5. Google is now talking about two features recently built into Android's source code: RAW support and burst mode shooting. Google spokeswoman Gina Scigliano told CNET "Android's latest camera HAL (hardware abstraction layer) and framework supports raw and burst-mode photography. We will expose a developer API in a future release to expose more of the HAL functionality."
In other words, the HDR+ mode available in the Nexus 5 (or the mode's underlying technology), which supports burst photography, will eventually be available for other phonemakers to incorporate in their own customized versions of Android. HTC's Sense could incorporate Google's camera software improvements instead of making their own. Recent Android releases have allowed for more control over the camera software, making it easier for third-party apps to use the Android camera and make solid third-party camera applications. For the first few years Android was on the market, the camera app was less accessible, and resulted in some pretty terrible camera software.
Depending on how it supports raw photographs, the new Android API could result in far better-looking photos. Google hasn't offered a timetable for when the new API will be available. Retooled image processing could save the Nexus 5 camera from mediocrity. Sensor and lens quality still play a huge part in photography, of course, but improved image processing can only be good news. And if Google can't make the camera better by itself, there's a strong chance that someone else--perhaps HTC or Samsung--will run with the new API and make the best Android camera software yet.