Whether you think it's a good thing or not, citizen journalism is on the rise. Not a shock there, as many of us carry potent 3G-connected computers bedecked with better-than-HD cameras in our pockets. This tech is also useful for journalists in remote or perilous areas, and that's likely what Apple's got in mind with a recent patent application pointing the way to advanced pocket-based broadcasting.
The patent hinges on the processing power contained in handheld devices like the iPhone or iPad, and the fact that in addition to having rear-facing high resolution cameras, the iDevices also have front-facing webcams (which in the future will likely be upgraded to HD resolution).
The typical on-location news interview setup has a lone cameraman, simple sound-recording gear and a single journalist--which means fill-in shots have to be recorded separately to show the interviewer as well as interviewee. Apple's realized its twin-cam devices actually boost the power of a lone journalist to simultaneously record their target on video and the target audio, all while also capturing fill-in shots with a picture-in-picture interface. Sure makes video editing on the fly easier.
Apple's imagined application uses smart image and audio recognition software, controlled by the journalist. In "interview mode" the iPhone could monitor both front-facing and rear-facing video and audio streams, and automatically switch between them when the interviewer or interviewee is talking--it may even look for lip movements to better detect speech.
Meanwhile in "report mode" the app would by default capture rear-facing footage of the scene, only switching to cover the journalist when speaking, or when commanding the app to do so. Apple suggests the feed could be automatically transmitted for live reception at a news agency, or recorded for later editing in the field (or possibly on the device itself--Apple's already made iOS a very powerful video editing system). In an even simpler version, the phone would transmit a multi-plexed camera feed directly to a remote editor, or record it for later more accurate editing. This last part is what raises all sorts of prospects for near-360-degree video footage of a dramatic news scene, as the reporter wouldn't necessarily have to place themselves in the front-facing scene.
Pretty simple, sure, but often the best ideas are simple. And the potent image capture skills such a device could employ could definitely transform the worst "citizen journalism" into more interesting pieces, and also could give journalists a more traditional news broadcasting facility in difficult spots (think of those journalists being shepherded around by government handlers in Libya). It's also tech that news agencies like the BBC and CNN could utilize with their existing field-reporting/citizen journalism plans.
Finally: This patent suggests that Apple will be including rear-facing directional mics on future iPhones and iPads.
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[Homepage image: Flickr user OndraSoukup]