Thursday, February 07, 2013

Customisable Cameras

I can't claim to be the originator of this, apart from anyone else, Thom Hogan has been banging on about this for years.

Consider your smartphone or tablet, which is a batch of fairly complex hardware (GPS, camera, phone, Bluetooth, WiFi, 2/3/4G radio, touch screen, proximity detector) all interconnected by the devices Operating System, typically Android or Apple iOS.

The device comes with a standard set of software, plus the ability to install additional software that does what the standard software does, but better, or lets you use all that interconnected hardware in some new or special way.

We've seen a couple of cameras recently that are architected in a similar way to your smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy camera and the Nikon S800c, both using the Android OS. The main driver behind these is their ability to easily share images using social media using the devices net capability i.e. WiFi or mobile broadband.

But what if someone produced a Compact System Camera or DSLR with the ability to adapt the functionality to your particular photographic needs or tastes? Potentially, you would need only 3 hardware sets in your line up: consumer; prosumer; professional. Much of the internals could be shared, but the functionality limited by software.

So for example, all 3 bodies might share the same AF system, but the consumer version software has less features and is slower. The professional model would have fully featured AF, and the prosumer sits somewhere in the middle. Now suppose I buy the consumer model but I later decide that I need faster AF (aka 'the sports pack'). Well, I can buy and download the software to do this, priced perhaps in a way that draws me to the next camera in the range.

By offering a range of such packs (portrait, landscape, black and white?), potentially the user could buy the cheapest hardware and then upgrade it's performance to that of the most expensive model (I'm ignoring here build, weatherproofing, battery life etc. - the sort of hardware features pro models tend to offer). Of course, in this instance, you'd price this in such as way as to make the professional model more attractive from the start.

This dramatically reduces your manufacturing costs, is less confusing for the buyer and gives the manufacturer the opportunity to sell the customer 'value-added' features, at high margin and low distribution costs, as they would be software 'packs'. You could also offer micro packs, for example film types or effects filters.

Mirroring even more closely the smartphone 'eco-systems', you could license 3rd parties to produce software, licensed by the manufacturer and only available through the manufacturers portal, with commission going to the hardware manufacturer.

You could of course sell the hardware including an optional pack, so that your single consumer hardware could come with, say, a sports pack, or portrait pack (priced at a slight discount compared to adding the pack after) depending on the customers requirements.

Will it happen? Well, if it did I don't see any of the established camera makers driving this forward, it would need a more radical and disruptive player to enter the market, and they'd need buckets of cash to get it off the ground.

iCamera anyone? Sign me up for the pro body with the 'manual-only film-era' option please.

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