At CES a few weeks ago, GoPro CEO Nick Woodman raised eyebrows by proclaiming that GoPro is being repositioned as a smartphone accessory company.  A few months earlier, photo app developer Snapchat announced a similarly surprising shift by repositioning itself as a camera company (to signify the move, the company changed its name to Snap).  Meanwhile, digital camera vendors are still struggling to be relevant for the mobile world where the vast majority of today’s photo engagement is occurring.

So does it make sense for cameras to become smartphone accessories?  Or for photo sharing apps to become camera apps?  And how can digital cameras be part of today’s instant visual communication world?

Let’s start with Snapchat, 

whose dazzling speed of launching innovative photo-engaging features is forcing major players, in particular, Facebook and Instagram, to scramble to avoid being left behind by the company that’s gearing up towards its IPO. Features pioneered by Snapchat such as 24-hour stories, animated selfie masks, visual messaging, in-app camera, and geo-filtered frames have now all made their way into Facebook’s and Instagram’s offerings.

The commonality of these features is that they are offered inside the Snapchat camera app and in real-time, i.e. right when the user takes a photo – not 30 seconds later (after the photo was transported to another device or uploaded to the cloud), not even 3 seconds later (because the photo had to be accessed in a separate app). All photo engagement happens instantly, the moment the user takes their photo. 

It’s for this reason that Snap has repositioned itself as a camera company (and not because the company launched Spectacles, their experimental AR-enabled sunglasses camera).

Other developers have followed suit by integrating camera features inside their sharing, messaging or photo engagement apps.  For instance, Twitter, as well as most text messaging apps, provides a camera app inside their publishing app, accommodating “shoot first, share instantly” use cases.  Twitter and the messaging apps are no longer text-based messaging platforms to which photos can be added; they have become real-time visual communication platforms to the core. 


Fast forward to GoPro. Better than any other company, GoPro has learned that in order to expand beyond its current user base, frictionless video transfer and fast video editing, highlight trailer creation, and UGC sharing is a must.  It no longer suffices to offer their users complex PC-based video editing software that can only be accessed after plugging their microSD card into their computer whenever they’re back home. 

For this reason, GoPro acquired several software startups, including computer vision startup Lumific, video trailer app creator company Stupeflix, and mobile video-editing company Vemory.  

In addition, GoPro offers options for WiFi-based video transfer to smartphones through its Capture app (see below for the still existing challenges to wirelessly transfer files from camera to smartphone), as well as for loading the content, saved on a microSD card, directly onto the iPhone through their $29 QuickKey microSD to Lightning adaptor (spoiler alert: it comes with a carabiner clip). 

 How about digital cameras? How do they plug into the mobile photo world? The short answer: they barely do. Since cameras typically don’t offer cellular connectivity, photographers who want to instantly engage with their favorite apps or share their photos in real-time are currently forced to use cumbersome workflows.

Some cameras can be set up as a WiFi network to which smartphones can be connected. Unfortunately, most smartphones then stop having Internet access as these phones expect the camera’s WiFi network to provide this access. An alternative is transferring photos through Bluetooth, but this type of transfer is much slower.  (NFC could, in theory, provide an easy tap-to-pair connection but this is not currently an option for iPhones, as Apple has only opened up NFC on their phones for electronic payment providers). 

These challenges, coupled with poorly implemented interfaces, contribute to the low ratings of camera transfer apps, such as (scale of 1-5; iPhone apps):  

• Canon Camera Connect: 1.5

• Nikon SnapBridge: 1.5

• Sony PlayMemories Mobile: 2.5

• GoPro Capture: 3.0

Where does this leave us? In a world in which integrating camera apps directly inside photo-engaging or messaging apps within the same device is already looking like a game-changer, instant and frictionless transfer of photos or videos from digital cameras, action cams, 360 cameras, wearable cameras, or drones is an absolute must.

The more these cameras risk being replaced by smartphone cameras (compact cameras and DSLRs being the most plausible candidates), the more important it is to provide seamless transfer and integration options to tie into the mobile photo engagement world.

Seamlessly connecting to the mobile photo world is not just a matter of limiting market decline, it also offers opportunities to attract a new generation of mobile photographers who have learned to enjoy photography and are ready to take their photo capture experience to a higher level – without abandoning the mobile visual engagement platforms they have learned to love. 

A few more things…

Talking about the camera as a smartphone accessory: we’ve described Giroptic’s iconic pyramid-shaped 360cam camera’s overload of features and shipping delays in the past, but now the company is changing course by following a meaner and leaner approach: at CES it showed Giroptic iO, a new 360 camera that plugs directly into your iPhone.

Timebox has announced a new version of their daily visual journal app. Users can also retain or share their visual stories as printed photobooks, ebooks, or movies.

A sign of the times: DJI acquires a majority stake in camera vendor Hasselblad.

Photokina gets new leadership: Christoph Werner becomes head of the Cologne Messe Digital Media, Entertainment, and Mobility unit, which includes Photokina.

Timehop founder Jonathan Wegener joins Snapchat.

Join me at the Business Forum Imaging in Cologne, March 1-2, where I’ll do a presentation about photo engagement trends. Have an innovative app to show in the photo app Show & Tell session? Contact me.

New study: The Photo Engagement Trends Report.

Photo by redspotted

Author: Hans Hartman

Hans Hartman is president of Suite 48 Analytics, the leading research and analysis firm for the mobile photography market and organizer of Mobile Visual 1st, a yearly industry conference about mobile photography.

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