The State of Technology in 2013: What We Learn from Cameras
As for as technology and digital culture is concerned, 2013 was likely the year of the camera.
Cameras demonstrated that we have so much technological capability than we can’t efficiently use it all.
- Everyone consumes photography on 5-inch screens, despite having the ability to capture images more than 10 times that size.
- There is an embarrassment of riches in the camera market and yet it’s drowning.
- Not knowing what else to do, major manufacturers turn to nostalgia. (It doesn’t work.)
- Professionals are let go and replaced with volunteers or other workers
Don’t think I’m upset with any of the above – they’re not judgements and are presented as observations.
In fact, I think every one of the bullets above can be traced to one fact: our technologies for viewing photos are significantly worse than our technologies for taking photos. For example, there is not a single Mac or Apple monitor which can show you a complete current generation iPhone image at full size. Despite this viewing bottleneck an entire industry has marched nearly to it’s doom in a race to improve a product which the ( average, non-professional) consumer couldn’t care less about.
Hence the awkward, inefficient situation we’re in. For about $200 you could purchase an amazing camera who’s quality you’d likely never fully experience. I don’t think other industries are dissimilar.
But there’s a corollary to this innovative stagnation.
Cameras have shown that to succeed in stale markets pay attention to the goal not the metrics.
- The Instagram and secondary camera apps like VSCO Cam focus on helping users take what they consider a ‘good’ picture. Accuracy is secondary.
- The iPhone 5S held the line with the current megapixel count and worked on making a faster, more sensitive camera (better lens, larger sensor) that creates more information for a more powerful CPU and GPU. Rather than bigger pictures, it takes more and stitches them together for perfect exposure and composition.
- GoPro has become the most stable camera company in the world by selling a camera built for the most photographic moments and experiences you want to share (that you could never bring your smartphone to).
The most important innovative features in cameras today are their editing UI, their computing power, and their use case. Lenses and sensors are secondary. A camera company could be launched today with lenses and sensor tech from 2008, a focused use case (the camera for hanging out with friends outside, the camera for taking selfies, the camera for parties and bars…), and a well designed way to edit and share. What’s interesting is the lens and sensor is the easiest bit.
Which brings us to sharing.
Cameras have shown us that the stream is something we’ll fight to control.
- Snapchat’s surprising success proved Eric Schmidt and others from the second digital boom were wrong: youth who grow up as digital natives will seek out privacy. Because of SnapChat, the impermanence feature will trickle into other apps going forward.
- The NSA story stayed here for the entire year, culminating in the clearest example of the need for camera control: that the FBI apparently can activate webcams remotely without triggering the indicator light.
- The ability to share images and videos has become so ubiquitous it’s done accidentally. We accidentally shared sexts, Play Station streams, and forget to turn off iCloud after we steal iPhones.
This is the state of modern consumer technology: we have so many capabilities we can’t efficiently use them all and we certainly can’t control them. This awkwardness drives us to seek out those which empower us to tame technology, making them mold to the things we do and want to do anyway (SnapChat let’s us manage our stream, VSCO helps us appear talented, and GoPro simply straps on to ourselves1 or our ride of choice).
I saw at least 5 tourists walking around with GoPro’s strapped to their chest this holiday season. ↩