The biggest advance in cameras came not from the mainstream camera makers, but from a defunct company whose storied brand is being revitalized: Polaroid. It took an ODM phone out of Taiwan which had married Android and a touch screen to a larger telephoto lens normally seen on point & shoots, slapped its brand on it, and voila! the phone of the future is emerging.
The camera is small and thin enough for pocketable use. I really like the Android inside, an interface I find familiar. It is WiFi only, not 3G, which somewhat limits its usefulness, but makes it much less expensive to travel with overseas and own as an occassional passion. Unfortunately it is a bit slow, and cheaper Android devices like this one are notorious for less precise touch screens than the iPhone. So: a good first shot, more to do to make it commercially successful.
The implications, however, are huge: camera innovation will now pass from the mainstream makers to a new breed.
Every year the mainstream TV and camera companies hawk their wares, to general disappointment. Two years ago I wrote about 3DTV and why it would be a bust. It has been. Even the glasses-free 3DTV is too nascent to win, yet. Last year I wrote about Android tablets as e-readers and concluded that Kindle was safe. It sure was, and now has become the second most popular tablet via its own Android version, the Kindle Fire.
This year all lot of action was around cameras. Nikon had their new mirrorless entrants, annoyingly not in a common format like APS-C or 4/3, but a new 1" sensor. (Canon later launched their entrant, in yet another sensor size, 1.5". Such is their view of "innovation.") Sony is finally shipping its mirrorless NEX7, part of their NEX line, which I have reviewed.
The iPhone has crushed the point & shoot market, and the camera makers are making a retreat to larger sensors and higher prices. They still do not get it.
I talked to camera insiders of why Canon and Nikon don't seem to get it, and they replied that they still believe their proprietary processing and coloration are their special sauce. What makes the iPhone 4S exceptional is not its 8 megapixel camera with decent color processing, but all the apps to enhance the photos and connectivity to share them.
It is a general theme that "software is cannibalizing everything", and photo processing is no exception. Free apps like Instagram have popularized filters, and apps like Camera+ (for a mere $1) add a whole Photoshop of filters to modify photos. Now crappy photos can be made to look incredible on a few clicks, and then shared. The color schemes of the high-end cameras matter little in the mass market. The iPod showed how crappier, compressed digital music crushes high-fidelity when it adds mobility and ease of play. Simply put:
Filters are the new Photoshop
There is a way for them to fight back, but involves software not hardware. It may be too late. That software is now more likely to emerge in the smartphone ecosystem, not the camera world.