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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.

If you've ever used a digital camera, and I know you have, you probably hate the software. Even the best cameras have clunky software, often with a user interface that seems years or a decade out of date. Until relatively recently, cameras relied on low-function processors to keep cost low and battery life long. Touchscreens came late for that reason, and the extra cost of such a screen, as well as screens as large and good as some smartphones.

But software was arguably the weakest point. Apple users may not realize that most companies lack the integration of hardware, software, and firmware that Apple does. In many companies, operations are strictly siloed, or broken into different divisions that are led by different people and have sometimes competing scheduling, priorities, and rewards.

When you're at a checkout stand, and the pad into which you swipe your card and enter your PIN or sign — did you notice that for the longest time, the text display would say, "Press OK" and the button (sometimes green) was labeled "Yes"? Or vice-versa? This is a result of siloing: the two division vice presidents at the pad maker couldn't get their teams to align on the text that every customer saw every time they used the device; no senior person could fix that before it shipped.

Cameramakers thus suffer and still do from a lack of top-to-bottom alignment, and smartphone platforms — even when you have Samsung and others putting their own skin on Android — avoid it most of the time, even if you disagree with the choices made.

I just upgraded the software on my 2012-era Sony NEX-6, a very nice mirrorless camera, and the first digital camera I could afford that brought me back to the experience of analog, when I shot in the 1980s. The software update experience required navigating a terrible site, finding the Mac software, and going through a slightly awful, but ultimately successful experience. By contrast, my Samsung TV updates itself with a click over Wi-Fi.

Even with the update and an "app store" for add-ons, robust Wi-Fi support, and a seemingly powerful processor, the NEX-6 is still a throwback. Just to log into the app store requires entering a password through a scroll wheel — there's no software that lets me configure access points from a computer, a built-in web server in the camera, or via a smartphone app. While I can upload to Flickr and Facebook and Sony's own service, I can't to any others. It's a multistep process to launch an app, select images, and then push an upload, which takes over the camera until complete.


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