It’s been only 20 years since Kodak and Logitech launched into the market the first digital cameras. These first generation cameras didn’t have a screen to check photos after taking them; some years passed until Casio released in 1995 the first digital camera with an LCD screen to view photos. The revolution had just started, and just after 10 years since Casio’s camera, around 76% of families in advanced countries owned at least one digital camera.
Competition was fierce during the first years. At the beginning, companies that had never created cameras entered the market and quickly gained a good position, like for example HP, Logitech, Creative Labs or Casio; their experience creating consumer electronics gave them a competitive advantage over the photography giants; at that time the battle was focused on developing CCDs with more and more megapixels. However, as the years passed by, megapixels were not that important anymore and optics quality started to be the most important thing for consumers. That was the key moment when the old school photography companies counterattacked; the competition caused a huge fall in prices of SLR cameras, which made their prices similar to those of new generation pocket compact cameras.
Among the top ten digital cameras manufacturers in 2009, only two were not Japanese: Samsung and Kodak. The other eight were Japanese and three of them had 80% of the global market share: Canon, Sony and Nikon. On the contrary to other sectors, like for example personal computing, where Japan has stopped being relevant because of the rise of Taiwan; in the photography sector Japan is the undisputed leader, the first battles have been won, at least until now.
This year, Nikon and Canon, are focusing on competing against the rise of Panasonic and Olympus that gained a good piece of market share thanks to the introduction of some four thirds cameras during 2009. Four thirds cameras have a place in the market in between compact cameras and reflex cameras; for most of the consumers the quality obtained with these cameras is more than enough and they don’t see the need to purchase a reflex camera.
Sony, Nikon, Fujifilm, Canon and also Panasonic and Olympus maybe should stop worrying about themselves and should start worrying about the general outlook. Up until now cameras integrated in cell phones haven’t had the required quality and versatility demanded by the majority of users. However, since not long ago, in Japan we already have cell phones with 12 megapixel cameras, and with that many users don’t see the need of having a camera, besides their cell phone. Another very important factor is that up until now even if cell phone cameras were very good, the screen didn’t have the required resolution to check the photos adequately. Then smartphones burst in and everything radically changed with screens of 3 or more inches and resolutions of up to 800×480.
Another advantage of using an smartphone with built-in camera is the versatility that it gives you to have an “almost computer” on your hands. For example, thanks to the API and the documentation given by Apple to developers from all around the world, iPhone users can download many different applications to retouch photos, modify the way how the camera takes photos, etc. Apple doesn’t bother to develop those applications; the community creates the ecosystem using the iPhone as the platform. Do you want your iPhone to take pictures with color and contrast similar to those in Polaroid photos? You just have to download an application and there you have it. If you have a traditional digital camera, that would be impossible! You have to download the pictures to the computer and then do the retouching.
Opening up the operating system of the cameras will be a huge step in the future of photography; that step would finally allow the community to develop applications for digital cameras. What company will be the first one to do it? Can you imagine that your camera could be able to access the Internet and you were be able to buy, download and install a reduced version of Photoshop inside the camera? The other day I used an iPhone connected via Bluetooth to an iPad to take photos, the feeling of having a camera in one hand and the screen in the other hand was kind of weird, but I am almost sure that new original ideas based on the same concept will come out. 10 iPhone streaming in real-time to a server and an iPad showing the combination of the stream coming from the 10 iPhones? Matrix?