Ideal Focus

Heads In The Clouds

Samsung seem to have created a fair bit of buzz with their comments about the possibility of Android OS cameras in the near future. People have been excited about the idea of an open camera that they can program or buy apps for. For today, the debate as to whether Android is that system can wait. What I want to look at is the idea from the manufacturer’s point of view.

What Samsung are looking at doing, is getting people to buy the hardware cheap, and then pay for their Cloud storage… every month. It’s the same kind of business model as mobile phone companies use: entice with hardware, make money on data.

Unfortunately for the likes of Samsung, I think they’ve missed a few key differences.

  • Smartphones are desirable, Point & Shoot cameras are not.
  • People don’t need the Cloud.
  • Connected phones need a 3rd party to provide the bandwidth.

To elucidate the first point, the market for Smartphones is growing, while the market for Point & Shoot cameras is shrinking. The phones are very flexible, and the apps allow owners to use their phones for a wide range of activities. Open programmable or not, a camera is still essentially a camera. People buy cameras to take photos, while apps could enhance the desirability of a camera, those same apps would be available for Smartphones too.

There is also a perception issue, where camera companies would have to sell the idea of people carrying 2 devices (a phone and a camera), and that the camera was somehow a premium item. At the moment people don’t see Point & Shoot cameras in that way. If people don’t lust after the gadget, they won’t be convinced to buy the data plan.

On to point 2, physical hard disks are not expensive. This is especially true for the amount of storage a casual user needs for photos. Likewise SD cards are cheap, so cost won’t encourage people to the Cloud. Monthly fees for storage are clearly going to put people off, when they consider how much storage they already have.

The counter to this simple analysis is that a Cloud connected camera can send files directly to the Cloud, from which you can access your photos anywhere. All of which sounds very impressive, but how often do you need it?

Usually I go out, take photos, come home, put my SD card into the computer, and finally transfer the files. The only changes with the Cloud approach are that I don’t need an SD card, and the files need to be transferred from the Cloud to my computer for editing (at a fee). I don’t really see a simplification to my workflow, I do see an increased cost.

The balance changes somewhat for people traveling a lot. Professional Travel Photographers and Photojournalists will see a benefit to the Cloud for them, but I have serious doubts as to the usefulness of the Cloud for 99% of amateur photographers.

The points I’ve raised thus far can be overcome by clever marketing. The final problem, however, cannot.

With the Cloud, you not only need the storage (at a cost), you also need a network to transfer the data through (at a cost). Transferring data is still expensive, and likely to remain so for years to come. A typical ipad tariff will set you back about £15 for 2GB of data file transfers. For a 12MP camera, that’s a bit over 200 photos. You can see the costs adding up fast, if files are sent automatically to the Cloud. Remember that £15 is just for the network, you still have to pay for the Cloud storage itself.

There’s another problem with mobile networks: coverage.

I like Landscape Photography, and often go into the countryside to take photos. Anyone who has been on a fell in Cumbria will know that they’re unlikely to have a signal. Even places with coverage may experience service outages. So what happens in those cases? Do you lose your photos?

I think it’s a safe bet what the solution will be. It’ll be you save all your photos to an SD card as well as the Cloud. So we’re not offsetting the cost of the data, by removing the need for SD cards and the like. We probably still need to have physical file transfers.

What about wifi hotspots?

At the moment these usually limit bandwidth. You get enough for online browsing, but file transfers are painfully slow.

With these costs and impediments in the way of mobile transfers, users might decide they want to wait until they get home before transferring to the Cloud (and use their home internet connection). At this point all that connectivity you paid for has become worthless. You’ll transfer files from your camera to your computer, and then from your computer to the Cloud after editing/selecting your keepers.

Okay, I’m sure some of you are thinking, what about just sending your photos direct from your camera to Facebook?

All the same counter arguments are there (except the storage cost itself), with the additional issue of do you really want all your photos uploaded automatically? If it’s not automated, it’ll be a hassle. If it is automated you may not always appreciate it!

If camera companies think they’re selling me on web based storage, they’ve got their heads in the Cloud.

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