Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Apple's iPhone loses the New York Times' selfie smackdown

February 6, 2014: 5:05 AM ET

None of the leading smartphones are optimized for the hottest shot of all.

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 6.19.08 AM

Molly Wood's selfies. Screengrab from the NYTimes.

FORTUNE -- "Selfies are great," says the New York Times' Molly Wood (rhymes with Hollywood), "but the front-facing cameras on cellphones are terrible."

"Selfies taken on most major smartphones," she writes in Thursday's issue, "are almost uniformly of poor quality. They're unfocused, pixelated, dark, blown-out, backlit, grainy and worst of all, distorted (I swear, I have a normal size nose!)."

Some may be more terrible than others, however. So Wood, deputy tech editor for the Times' business section, set out for Times Square to shoot some pictures of herself with what she describes as "arguably, the four best camera phones in the U.S. market."

"The big surprise," she says in a video posted on the Times' website, "is that I have to say I'm not very impressed with the iPhone's front-facing camera." She's surprised because the 5S has, in her words, "one of the best smartphone cameras available, and is easily capable of replacing a snapshot camera entirely."

But the iPhone's selfies were a disappointment: "Its focus was inconsistent, colors tended to appear washed out, and its lens produced the most distortion of the bunch (once again: My nose does not look like that in real life)."

As for the rest ...

  • "The HTC One produced the best selfies. They were consistently in focus and had rich, true colors, and the camera performed better in low light than the competition."
  • "The Nokia Lumia 1020 was a close second, despite its lower resolution, but indoor shots were worse than outdoor shots."
  • "The Samsung Galaxy S4 suffers from focus issues, so its selfies were inconsistent, and any bright lights in the background resulted in badly blown-out images."

But none of the phones were good enough for Wood. She blames the pressure on manufacturerers to make every new generation of smartphones thinner than the old -- a design priority she lays at Apple's feet.

But there may be a larger issue issue for Apple.

Selfies, like Facebook and Twitter, are a major social media phenomenon. The word "selfie," Wood points out, was the Oxford Dictionaries' neologism of the year. And "#me" is the third-most-common tag on Instagram.

With 184 million selfies on Instagram, how could Apple miss it?

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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