The Apple Leviathan and the FabFocus App

Photo by Sylke Rohrlach, remixed under Creative Commons 2.0

How do you build a great App when Apple wants to build it too? I’ve always played in Apple’s ocean; I built my former game company, Freeverse, in the ecosystem Steve Jobs brilliantly willed into creation. That ecosystem is filled with opportunity, but it’s Apple’s and we just swim in it.

“This is a field where one does one’s work and in ten years it’s obsolete” — Steve Jobs

That’s an exciting quote if you’re a little guy. If you’re fast. With every doubling of Moore’s Law, fields of opportunity open up. My first game in the 90’s had voice recognition. The day Apple granted access to the live camera feed in 2009, on the iPhone 3GS, we released the first augmented reality game for iOS, Fairy Trails. Gotta get ’em all.

And last winter, we decided that the hardware was fast enough, and the deep learning image recognition was good enough, that it was possible to simulate a depth of field and bokeh effects for portraits on iOS, maybe with one touch. Now, using depth of field is absolutely the most popular format for portraits. It’s almost impossible to find fashion pics that don’t use a depth of field effect, but that effect is just not physically possible with the small lenses on smart phones. Oh, Hello Opportunity. So we built FabFocus. Here’s an early shot of my kid from last April:

By late Spring, we were pretty happy with FabFocus, but by then the rumors started about Apple adding dual cameras to the new iPhone 7. And dual cameras potentially give you real depth perception. And Apple might squash us.

Was Apple going to add a “Portrait Mode” to the iPhone 7? (Hindsight spoiler: Yes!) Were we going to get overshadowed? Totally. So what’s the move? Our first thought was to get it out ASAP, giving us some time. Our second thought was the effect was so compelling that if Apple built it into the iPhone 7, it would be a big deal, they would create a giant wave of marketing, and there would be a place for us in the wake of their release.

We can’t compete with Apple. We don’t benefit from the tightly integrated hardware and code, of being a button on the Camera app, of having more than one engineer. But we swam to where the Leviathan was going and that gives us a shot. Apple has over 500 million iOS devices in use, but they’ll sell just a few tens of millions of iPhone 7 Pluses by year’s end. As Steve said, all code lasts just a brief moment in time, but FabFocus is pretty great, and Apple thinks depth of field is pretty great — so today we’re releasing it on the App Store. I love Apple. I hope they sell 500 million iPhone 7 Pluses— just not all at once.

Get FabFocus for the iPhone 5S or later here

Hey, FabFocus turned the bright white flowers into Bokeh stars!