Thursday, January 19, 2012

I'm sad for Kodak

What happened? Why chapter 11?

Wait too late to pare the company down to profitable units?
Abandoned the high end digital photography market at a time where cell phones are eating up the cheap, consumer camera market?
Went into the printer business at a time where most people won't have a home printer in the next 10 years? (I am guessing it will happen sooner than that - heads up HP).
Didn't buy/build a photosharing business to compete with Flicker/Picasa (Just buy photobucket, for instance).

I don't know what happened, but I am sad all the same. I have my granddad's Brownie camera, which I love for what it represented - photography for the masses - real innovation.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The impending revolution in digital cameras

Poor Kodak! What has happened to you? Why did you go into the printer business!?!

Their impending bankruptcy (everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop) is a milestone of sorts, as the pioneer of photography succumbs to the world of cell phone cameras. Kodak all but abandoned the high end camera market years back when they were still a player. Getting beat up in the cutthroat low end market may have finally done them in.

So - beyond the historic significance, there is the issue that what a camera is, and what it will become, and the context that it is used in. We are indeed taking a lot more pictures due to the availability of a camera in a cell combined with inherent connectivity - in turn connected to social networking.

So what to do? Given this dilemma there is the pressure to innovate.

Lytro thinks they have the answer with their "light field" camera. I will spare the explanation of the technology and instead focus on experience. No more focusing - images can actually be refocused while they are being displayed. A neat trick to be sure.

However, I  question that (in it's current state) that it is the innovation that some tout it to be.

The camera is hopelessly tethered to Lytro's photo service. It is an intrinsic part of the experience. Images can be loaded on their servers and then shared, but because of the back end processing that has to be done, and also because there isn't native support in browsers for their images (nor do I believe there ever will be). In essence, you are buying a device that lives in a walled garden - which will work as long as Lytro stays in business. It seems to me that this is a big limiting feature of the camera, unlike any other camera on the market - which will work with pretty much anything as it they use standard image formats.

The camera's resolution is a big step backwards. It is the antithesis of the multi-megapixel images that cameras can generate today. It is really no better than a point and shoot digital camera from a few years back.

Finally - the neat parlor trick of being able to refocus the image from foreground to background - it wears thin after a while, because frame composition when shooting dictates what is important and not as important in the frame. In other words, the photographer makes a compositional decision concerning what they want the audience to see. Lytro takes this away from the photographer - in giving the option to refocus - it defeats the decision the photographer made when composing their image. Would being able to refocus on background/foreground make the Mona Lisa a better picture? Of course not.

I think the real innovation is happening in much more subtle ways. We see cameras now that look and feel like they were designed by software/hardware engineers - not photographers - with interesting results. Sony's NEX line of cameras illustrates this idea. Some complained about the odd ergonomics of the camera, and it's reliance on a touch screen - but on the other hand - this line of cameras represents a rethinking of how a camera can work - and how the user can interact with it. The ultimate expression of this is their new NEX-7, which contains several controls that can be reconfigured by the photographer - they can create their own preferred way of setting exposure etc. This is what software control gets you - flexibility of user interface design.

Another expression of this just came out of left field, Polaroid's SC1630, a camera powered by android. In a similar way to the NEX - it is an interesting take on the camera experience, where it is an android device that can use the Android store to purchase apps. Depending on how much Poloroid gives access to the camera for developers - it could presage the idea of user driven interfaces and apps that can unlock capabilities in the camera. Want to use it for infrared photography? Want a dedicated, programmable intervalometer for stop motion photography? Having a camera that can be upgraded through new software is a pretty compelling idea.

The other aspect of this camera, and others that feature connectivity through wifi is the idea of sharing. Even Lytro gets this - that it is not just about taking the photograph anymore  - it must also be able to instantaneous share. I think there is much more here that I could write about - the shifting of time, space, memory and emotional impact. But clearly, at least in consumer cameras - this will rapidly become a common feature in mid-line cameras ($100 to $400 retail).

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Stunning New Year Predictions

Quick and to the point!

- Blackberry will continue to lose market share due to many reasons - catastrophic service outages that illustrate a fundamental flaw with their intrastructure and conceptualization of how messaging should work in 2011. Plus their devices are not sexy.

- Android will continue to make gains. Look for focus on better, uniform user experiences across devices. Also - it will begin to show up on things other than phones and tablets. There are already two Android based handheld game systems out there - more to come. How can Google capitalize on this?

- The fight for free cloud storage mindshare will hit a fever pitch with Google landing in the middle of it all.

- There will be more interest in fully on-line high schools for under served areas, but also to alleviate class crowding and shrinking funds.

- Google will continue to plug away at Google TV. It may show up on more new sets this summer, but it will be this extra thing that consumers ignore until there is a compelling reason for it to exist; ie content and a really sexy way to discover content, and merge that seamlessly with the current "real-time/time-shift" broadcast TV experience, blurring the line between the two.

- 3D video cameras will dramatically drop in price, but it will be a while before 3D TV's will as well. Nintendo has it right with the 3DS - the experience needs to happen without glasses before it goes from novelty to something that we would use all the time.

- Apple may or may not come out with a TV set. If they do, re-read that last paragraph. They will successfully integrate their iTunes storefront with the ability to timeshift Television - all through a consistent interface - which will support Siri for program searching with intelligence. And Apple will have the App store for the AppleTV, which can include advertising supported content, just like it does with Apps for the iPad and iPhone.

- Apple will introduce a new tablet in the spring. There will still be only one basic model as before - with more ram, wifi or wifi and celluar. It will be a little thinner and lighter, but will also have a higher resolution and slightly larger screen.

- Amazon will sell a lot of Fire's. A lot. Books, Magazines, Video - ie content. What Google doesn't have.