One Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 by Max Baron

The San Jose Mercury News described Facebook’s recent acquisition of Instagram for $1 Billion as a deal that “surprised and stunned the tech world.” The surprise will, however, turn to shock and admiration once the free Instagram app is put though its paces. Shock at the program’s engineering simplicity and admiration for those that gained millions of followers and ultimately sold the app to Facebook for the ten-figure sum.

Designed for a cellular phone, the application works also on a tablet, such as iPad, but keeps its cell phone format. The program helps Instagram logged-in members to process and post their own photos as well as download images posted by other members.

Having loaded an existing image or a new one taken by using the incorporated camera controls, the Instagram app user can employ a number of simple image convolution filters to modify the image tint and luminosity. A preset contrast filter can also provide a feeling of sharpness enhancement, while area-specific convolution can introduce artificial focus. The application does not provide support for knowledgeable users to define their own convolution filters.  The app supports basic image zooming, cropping and orientation. Users can also frame the image to be posted. Browsing through other members’ photos is supported among other features by a display of 20 thumb-prints, and a “like” vote button.

Facebook’s recent acquisition of Instagram for $1Billion reminds one of the time programs on the PC began to offer simple custom photo processing and later — support for sharing. Word processing and spreadsheets were not immediately dethroned but had to cede a seat in popularity to multimedia: still and video imaging plus sound and the processing required to do them justice.  The popularity of Facebook and other community sites will accelerate the penetration of shared multimedia among mobile systems but in ways that are not exactly similar to the PC’s adaptation to multimedia workloads. This time around mobile multimedia will have to support existing quality requirements that were not immediately present for the cell phone or earlier for PC software. The present performance demand posed by high resolution images on tablets and cellphones is further magnified by the presence of high performance high pixel density digital cameras incorporated in tablets and in prosumer (professional-consumer) quality cameras.

Even higher performance is required by the mobile processing of video and sound that have barely been touched. Stand-alone camera manufacturers may want to introduce their own direct WiFi and cellular phone connection to help users share quality photos and video with mobiles whose displays will do them justice. Olympus is already offering a cell phone targeted Bluetooth module that can be attached to the auxiliary port present in some of the company’s new mirror-less cameras.

Accelerated by Facebook and others soon to follow, the trend to enhance and share photos and video on mobile systems will require the high image processing capabilities that can be delivered by SoCs employing multiple processing cores. Without them, the tablets and cell phones will feel much warmer than some are already feeling today—and the loss of energy will result in shorter battery life between charges. Many high performance cameras, having already learned the lesson, are employing multiple core SoCs of their own design or purchased from expert sources such as Ambarella. The resulting high quality images will have to be stored on higher capacity servers.

With the acquisition of Instagram, Facebook has started a trend that brings to mind the saying “one picture is worth a thousand words.” For Instagram, the acquisition means $1 Billion. For the semiconductor industry the trend can mean multiple billions of dollars.

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