A Melbourne man has done what Apple failed to do: turn the iPhone 5 into a full action camera capable of shooting 20 high-quality photos in one second.
In doing so the app developer and researcher has earned praise from those in the technology community, caught the eye of tech giants looking to acquire his company, made it to No.1 on Apple's paid app store, and sold tens of thousands of copies of his 99-cent app.
His app has become so popular that it is even being pirated.
John Papandriopoulos, 35, who now lives in San Francisco, began research and development on his app, called SnappyCam Pro, more than two and a half years ago. Prior to that he worked at a start-up called ASSIA, founded by Stanford University engineering professor John Cioffi, known by some as the "father of DSL". While there he researched ways to optimise the performance of DSL networks.
A developer who has been writing software since he was about 12, Dr Papandriopoulos joined ASSIA shortly after creating an algorithm to reduce the electromagnetic interference that slows down ADSL connections while studying for his PhD at the University of Melbourne. He later patented his PhD work and sold it to Ericsson with the help of the University of Melbourne for an undisclosed amount.
After reviewing his thesis as an external expert Professor Cioffi, who developed the computer chips inside the first DSL modems, offered the then 29-year-old a job.
But now, after winning the US Green Card Lottery and gaining permanent US residency, Dr Papandriopoulos has left ASSIA and turned his attention to the optimisation of Apple's iPhone camera under his own start-up SnappyLabs.
He created SnappyCam after he found the iPhone's camera was not being used to its fullest potential by Apple and other developers who were making camera apps.
"The iPhone 5 ... is an amazing piece of hardware," Dr Papandriopoulos said. "It's just under-utilised.
"The stock camera app doesn't support continuous shooting. If you were to tap it as fast as you can you typically won't get more than four to six pictures per second."
After realising the iPhone's camera was being under-utilised, Dr Papandriopoulos began looking back at research from the 1990s on JPG and on a form of mathematical image compression called the discrete cosine transform.
"It's been around for a very long time, but there was a lot of research that was done around that time in the early 1990s on how to compute this [data] very quickly with applications, image signal processing, image compression and so on," he said.
"And in order to make SnappyCam as fast as it is I literally needed to replace the standard JPG compression software and algorithm that exist on the iPhone — that is provided to developers by Apple — with something else that was a lot more efficient and a lot faster that I was able to implement on the iPhone hardware."
Using his new compression algorithm, which comprises nearly 10,000 lines of hand-tuned assembly code, and more than 20,000 lines of low-level C code, SnappyCam is able to unlock an iPhone's higher frame and resolution capture when taking photographs.
The result is an app that can shoot 20 eight-megapixel photographs in one second.
"That's faster than any other mobile platform, including Android, and four times faster than any other camera app on iOS," Dr Papandriopoulos claims on his blog.
Full-frame continuous shooting was "the holy grail" of phone photography, he said.
The response from users had been great, according to Dr Papandriopoulos. People who play golf and softball in particular have been using it to analyse their swings, while others have used it to take pictures of lightning, their pets and children who "never keep still".
Very soon he hopes to implement a sharing feature that will allow users to post online — and through social networks — bursts of photographs they have taken, which Dr Papandriopoulos calls "living" photos. "That's what I'm literally working on right now," he said.
Dr Papandriopoulos was hesitant to reveal download figures, but said there were about 20,000 users on the beta version of Apple's upcoming iOS 7 operating system using SnappyCam. Many more were using it on other versions of iOS.
When the latest version was released in late July it reached the No.1 spot in Apple's app store in 10 countries and made it to the top 10 in another 60.
The app proved so popular that Dr Papandriopoulos has even had to issue takedown notices against pirates who were sharing it online for free for jailbroken iPhones.
"It's a good problem to have but it does kind of cost sales, and in my case as an independent developer that makes a difference," Dr Papandriopoulos said.
Tech giants and investors have also shown an interest, he said.
"I've spoken to several of those, as well as some smaller companies," he said, without naming names. "One in particular is a well-funded start-up that has made some significant inroads in what they're doing. If I was to mention a name I'm sure you would know who they are."
Fellow Australian Apple software developer Marc Edwards, founder of Bjango, which makes the popular Consume app for iPhone and iStat for Mac, called SnappyCam "the fastest camera app" on Apple's app store that he had seen.
"The language used on the SnappyCam site seems like hyperbole at first, but the methods and results make a lot of sense," Mr Edwards said.
"There's definitely some smart stuff going on."
Zhiyong Wang, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney's School of Information Technologies, said Dr Papandriopoulos's SnappyCam app was "very interesting".
But he warned that it may chew through the iPhone's battery power and that this may be one of the reasons why Apple and others had not yet looked at something similar.
This reporter is on Facebook: /bengrubb