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Cameramakers missed the Wi-Fi bandwagon on the road to obsolescence

Glenn Fleishman | March 27, 2015
The day of the standalone digital camera has passed for all but professional photographers and those who aren't paid for their work but have particular needs a phone's built-in camera can't meet. Smartphones won by making photos easy to share online.

The day of the standalone digital camera has passed for all but professional photographers and those who aren't paid for their work but have particular needs a phone's built-in camera can't meet. Smartphones won by making photos easy to share online.

This isn't discounting the fact that a smartphone became the camera you always had with you, requiring one fewer gadget and its accompanying batteries and cables when traveling. Early smartphone cameras were of often terrible quality but convenient — now they're both terrific and convenient. And I've talked to many professional photographers for whom a smartphone isn't a replacement for their DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, lenses, and flashes, but a supplement — a choice that they can reach for, and sometimes reach for first.

Cameramakers had a window of time that stretched over 10 years during which they could have proven their relevance to casual and somewhat more serious photographers. They had a chance to carve out a niche that smartphones would have been contending against, and fight to be the second device someone opted by choice to carry along.

Instead they blew it by insisting on walled gardens or deals with a handful of photo services. They almost entirely missed social sharing, and they continue to misfire today.

Why Wi-Fi?

I've been writing regularly, sometimes constantly, about Wi-Fi since 2000, and ever since about 2005 or so, when extremely tiny, low-power Wi-Fi radios became available, I've been beating a drum about wireless photo transfer. Cameras started to ship that year with rudimentary Wi-Fi, sometimes in the most expensive models and often in modest ones.

In 2008, I covered the new Nikon S52c for PCWorld, one of the best consumer cameras of the time that included Wi-Fi, and its horrible limitations. Rather than performing any sort of file transfer or sync, the camera uploaded a downsampled image to its freemium service and sent out an email.

At Ars Technica in 2009, I described the horrible frustration of the solution Sony came up with in one model, which was an embedded web browser through which you should enter network names and passwords, log into websites, and the like.

Nikon, Sony, Kodak, and others sometimes cut deals with photo-sharing and -printing services, and sometimes ran their own. But they almost always tried to suck you into a walled garden that they controlled.

They didn't support (in consumer cameras at least) file-server and file-transfer standards like Secure FTP (SFTP) or WebDAV. Even Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service), launched in 2006, would have make sense — it was in wide swing for cheap online access by the late "aughties."

They also didn't integrate directly with Flickr, already part of Yahoo and then one of the most heavily used services, but even when Flickr was an option, it required an extra step. Flickr had a social network long before Facebook and Twitter began to scale, but if cameramakers considered working directly with a division of Yahoo, they might have feared losing walled-garden fees and control of their customers.

 

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