The Evolution of Imaging Applications

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Image: Tallinn, Estonia © Peter Krogh 2019

This is the fourth post in a set of four which outline the nature of images, formats and applications.

The final component of imaging evolution is the software environment to create and make use of images. We can track the development of the digital image itself along with seismic changes with advances in software and hardware development. Let’s take a look at several eras in computing that have driven the use of images to new levels. 

The personal computer

Digital images were primarily used by a handful of news organizations until the 1980s when it became possible to work with images on low-cost computers. This spurred a need to create interchangeable file formats rather than proprietary application-specific ones. 

The desktop publishing revolution

As the tools to create print and web materials matured, the need for consistent reproduction became an urgent requirement. This led to important standardization like the formalization of the TIFF and JPEG specification and the ICC effort. 

The digital camera

In the early 2000s, digital cameras created a brand new set of requirements for image files. Cameras that created raw files spurred the development of non-destructive, read-only applications. And the proliferation of digital images created an asset management problem that was previously only relevant to major media companies. 

Mobile photography

As camera-equipped smartphones became nearly universal in the 2010s, this led to an exponential rise in the number of photos taken as well as the use of photos for nearly any kind of purpose. Imaging environments were extended to or integrated with cloud-based applications. And social media platforms have become essential partners in understanding the meaning and value of images. 

Cloud workflow

The migration of computing workflow from “my stuff on my computer” to “my stuff everywhere” has driven new requirements in bandwidth and connectivity. Images are turning into cloud-hosted connected objects, which requires proxy images and application-specific renderings.

Computational photography

The newest frontier of image evolution is the productization of computational photography, primarily through advanced mobile phones. Images now include depth information to create portrait renderings, as well as Augmented Reality integration in mobile phone software. 

Next week, we’ll take a deeper dive into the characteristics of digital images, starting with color rendering.

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