Last month, MG Siegler wrote an article for TechCrunch in which he proclaims specs as dead. It’s a good read, but in summary he notes that specifications are a poor metric when comparing current technology. One shouldn’t decide on a Mac vs. a PC based on specs. The same applies to the iPhone vs. an Android phone. The release of the Kindle Fire provides an opportunity to compare specs with the Barnes & Noble Nook tablet. I agree with Siegler’s conclusions and can confirm it matches my take in my own life. I “downgraded” from an Android device with 1GB of RAM earlier this year to an iPhone with only half that amount… and yet I have a better user experience. Better specs don’t mean higher satisfaction.
The State of Camera Hardware Specs
Major camera manufacturers seem to be stuck back in the world of specs. As we wait for the next big thing from Nikon or Canon, we speculate about megapixels. We wonder about the number of frames per second. Everyone wants to know if it goes to ISO 256,000 (256,000 is the new eleven).
Most photography is no longer camera-limited. A $1,000 DSLR (in the hands of a knowledgeable photographer) can produce plenty of great artistic and/or saleable images. The profliferation of affordable cameras is one of the reasons why the low- and mid-range photography markets are difficult for professional photographers.
We have a few major manufacturers who are making evolutionary (as opposed to revoluntionary) updates. Nikon and Canon are quite comparable. The hardware is good enough, and minor tweaks to the hardware don’t result in significant differences for photographers. DSLR software is a different story. In short: it sucks. The interfaces and menus provided by Canon and Nikon are usable, but they’re often confusing, inconsistent, and clunky to perform relatively common tasks. It’s time for some DSLR software disruption.
Move Beyond Specs with Camera Software
Given that cameras are “good enough” for most purposes, there’s a huge opportunity for someone to come in and create some disruption in the market with “good enough” camera hardware that features excellent and revolutionary software. I’ve heard Alex Lindsay opine on This Week in Photo that he’d like to see a camera manufacturer create a DSLR that would accept an iPhone attached to the back to provide the user interface. That’s one option; it would allow for third parties to write applications that could control the camera via the iPhone’s touch screen. A solution which depended on a piece of hardware beyond the camera itself (such as an iPhone or iPod Touch) might have challenges with the hardware interface.
A few days ago, Hewlett-Packard announced plans to open source the WebOS operating system that has previously been used on smartphones and a tablet (all of which turned out to fail in the marketplace). The Android operating system has been used on a variety of devices including smartphones, tablets, and even vending machine interfaces. Both of these options, along with iOS, show that we’ve reached a point where pleasing touch interfaces are an option for mainstream uses. What if a camera manufacturer created a camera body that used a totally new software interface that didn’t suck?
Much like Apple came into the phone market and turned it sideways, the camera market is ripe for a disruptor. Maybe, like the phone market, that disruption will come from a company not currently in that field. Are there any companies out there other than Apple with the cojones to make such a move in a big way?