Since Apple redefined the smartphone as a software platform, people all over the world are finding new ways to use their mobile device. Most phones have decent cameras and software to manage photos. And since people don’t go out the door without their phones, this is the device that is more likely to be in their pocket when a photo opportunity comes. One result of this is that the smartphone is taking over the role of the camera. The smartphone is disrupting the camera and camcorder market.
Few weeks ago Cisco announced that they are shutting down their Flip camera devision. Although it is not clear why they would do this, or if it has anything to do with smartphones, it is one sign that digital cameras and camcorders as a special device are facing hard times. Camera retailers are seeing decline in sales and less profits. Some have shifted the focus on printing and framing.
Flickr has a page which shows the most popular cameras (http://www.flickr.com/cameras/) According to this page the Nikon D90 is the most popular, followed by iPhone 4. Furthermore, the page suggests that point and shoot cameras are declining in market share at least compared to cameraphones.
We are seeing cameras getting disrupted. This disruption is caused by smartphones. There are several reasons why this is happening. First, the mobile phone is the most widely used device on this planet. Everyone has one. And you don’t leave the house without your phone. This is the device you have on you all the time. Morgan Stanley reports that 91% of people have their phone within arms reach 24/7. This means that whenever you find yourself presented with a photo opportunity, the camera device in your pocket is your phone.
Second point is about the quality of camera phones. Some years ago, in the early days of digital cameras, I asked a person that worked at a company selling film, film cameras and development of film, if she was worried about digital cameras. “No” was the response, with the explanation “have you seen the quality of these things – it’s horrible”. This is the nature of disruptive products, like the camera was – they offer low performance in their early stages and slowly get better over time. Point is that cameraphones have good-enough quality.
Third is the constant connectivity. The mobile phone is a communication device (or used to be). Thus, it is always connected. With wireless hotspots all over the place and 3G networks, sending pictures to sites like Flickr is easy. You don’t have to get a wire to connect the device to your laptop, you just send the picture. So if you’re at an event or in a special place you want to make sure your friends know about this, and you want to send them the picture right away.
This has to be easy which leads to the last point. The Software. Smartphones with apps have great many applications that manipulate pictures. Selecting them and sending is only few touches on the device. Sharing can also be automatic – which might get people into trouble.
But are cameras and camcorders dead? That is unlikely, they will become the high-end professional devices. The users of Nikion D90 on Flickr are likely to be serious photographers, either professionals making a living taking pictures or amateurs that just love taking photos. While the casual users might prefer their phone as a camera, the serious user will still want the high-end product. The result is consolidation in the camera and camcorder market. As a last point, even if the numbers show that cameras are getting disrupted they don’t say anything about the artistic quality of the pictures taken.