Only a few years ago, Dave Burke remembers, cellphone users were just happy to have a camera at all. But expectations have changed. "If you have a smartphone, people want it to take pictures like a DSLR. Even in one year the quality bar and expectation bar has gone up higher and higher. Internally, ours have too. I think we can do better, and we are."

As he says this, Burke, Google's Director of Engineering for Android, is walking through all the changes Google has made to the Nexus 5's camera in the five weeks since the phone hit the market. The fruits of the Android team's efforts is Android 4.4.1, the update rolling out over the next few days that is designed to fix the buggy, inconsistent camera on what is otherwise one of the best Android phones on the market.

The changes break down in five categories, Burke says, autofocus first among them. Mixing speed and image quality requires a fragile balance, particularly in low light, and Android 4.4 skewed too far toward image quality. "There’s a tendency to say, 'oh, we have this cool thing that stabilizes, so lets make the shutter time longer, reduce the gain even longer, and get better shots.'" But while the Nexus 5's optical image stabilization allowed it to get better-than-average shots in low light, in good lighting it just made for frustratingly slow shooting speeds. By speeding up the framerate and increasing how quickly the camera can read its surroundings and fire a picture, Burke and his team improved the autofocus, the exposure, and the white balance. "You fix the motion blur," he says, "and make everything faster."
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--jeremy