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Why the iPhone’s purple haze is more problematic than Apple thinks

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Purple Haze on the iPhone5, as documented by Kaido in the Anandtech thread discussing the artifact (

Reports are filtering in that the new iPhone 5 has a camera problem. When pointed near a bright light, a characteristic magenta hue smears across the screen. This “Hendrix Effect” is not apparent in earlier versions of the iPhone.

According to Gizmodo, Apple is responding to complaints by informing customers that the purple is normal:

Our engineering team just gave me this information and we recommend that you angle the camera away from the bright light source when taking pictures. The purple flare in the image provided is considered normal behavior for iPhone 5′s camera.

This is the wrong reaction.

People now use cell phones as their primary point-and-shoot cameras. Why wouldn’t we, with cell cameras so convenient? When I go out, I’m much more likely to grab my iPhone 4s (no 5 for me just yet, thanks) than my digicam. Surely this consolidation of extraneous gadgets into unified, all-capable smartphones is the most welcome of recent tech trends. Phones are the new cameras. Consumers make purchasing decisions accordingly.

Look, for example, at the dismal trends for small digital cameras:

Google trends shows a decline in search interest for Canon & Nikon's leading digicam lines.

Smartphone manufacturers are eating a large slice of the traditional camera company pizza. To lock down this progress, phone manufacturers cannot afford to go backwards on their optics or to treat imaging problems flippantly. People buy phones based on the performance the cameras, and this stumble may be a bigger one than Apple realizes.

[note: I have not yet used an iPhone 5, so I have no personal experience with the purple haze problem.]

Alex Wild About the Author: Alex Wild is Curator of Entomology at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studies the evolutionary history of ants. In 2003 he founded a photography business as an aesthetic complement to his scientific work, and his natural history photographs appear in numerous museums, books and media outlets. Follow on Twitter @myrmecos.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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  1. 1. bigtruck797 5:49 pm 10/2/2012

    I think cameras, internet connectivity, GPS, etc. are just ways to distract us from the fact that cell phones are very poor phones.

    Link to this
  2. 2. David in Cincinnati 6:29 pm 10/2/2012

    True, I use the iPhone (4S) cam often. But with it’s tiny lens and few options this is no substitute for an inexpensive camera dedicated for the purpose.

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  3. 3. Alex Wild in reply to Alex Wild 6:44 pm 10/2/2012

    “…just ways to distract us from the fact that cell phones are very poor phones.”

    Ha! I’ll file that one under “funny because true”, bigtruck.

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  4. 4. ecraig 2:16 am 10/3/2012

    Good point and their response is completely inappropriate. Phone cameras continue to remain behind dedicated point-and-shoot in quality, but for convenience and ease of use they can’t be beat (thus the bottom is falling out of the small digital camera market). I travel frequently and shoot more images than I ever used to – all because my iPhone can do it. Apple needs to get this resolved through a (one hopes, software) update, but their only focus at the moment is on the disaster of Apple Maps.

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  5. 5. RickR 10:47 am 10/3/2012

    Or, As one photographer, when asked what the best camera is, said that the best camera is the one you have with you. A Nikon D600 at home is not as good a camera as the camera in the phone in your pocket.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Overb19305 10:51 am 10/3/2012

    Phones are the new technology I know and see more people use there phones for everything then anything else especially for picture taking. Why include a camera if it’s supposedly now dangerous ? I do agree that people do buy phones based on their quality mainly they look for things like camera, web, and texting.

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  7. 7. patrickh74 12:21 pm 10/3/2012

    looks like the new iphone 5 should be called the Iturd #1. Apple should look to Windows and all of the failed OS’s that have come and gone. XP is still going strong where as 2000 and Mellenium have long since died. Vista is almost obsolete unless you work in a school or similar venue. All because Microsoft was way too eager to get paid for a new OS. Apple has long been held as the progressive tech innovator. Now this turd. Crap map app (no Google maps ON PURPOSE!, and a crap camera) A GIANT step in the wrong direction. So like 2000 and Vista, I will use the I4 and all of the mods that are available. Come on Iphone6. (I’m sure its already underway)

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  8. 8. CarterS 2:53 pm 10/3/2012

    I think this blog could be completely relevant to the new iPhone 5 users.

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  9. 9. TTLG 4:46 pm 10/3/2012

    It looks to me that the claim of the death of small digital cameras is exaggerated. It looks to me like the red line on the graph bottomed out years ago and has held steady since then. The problem is size: phones are getting smaller, but optics cannot shrink without reduced performance. So, barring a breakthrough in optics design (like a concave instead of flat light sensor), there will always be a niche between cell phone camera performance and the larger SLR-like cameras that the smaller point-and-shoot cameras will perform.

    Link to this
  10. 10. yavuzhan 7:10 am 10/5/2012


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