I’m a sucker for year-in-reviews, especially if they’re about soccer or speedskating (yes, really). So, with things slowing down before the holidays and a soon forthcoming CES that will bring us right back to the future, here are the six consumer imaging trends that I feel stood out this year.
1. AI is becoming ubiquitous.
AI has moved way beyond its initial imaging use case of classifying objects portrayed in photos (“show me all photos with a cat in it”). For each of the phases of the typical consumer imaging chain (image capture, enhancement, organizing, sharing, and printing), innovative AI solutions kept cropping up this year.
In fact, it’s hard to talk about any imaging-related use case that is not being touched in some way by AI-based innovations, as we heard consistently at our Visual 1st conference in October.
2. Image capture:
Computational photography is driving things forward, not optics. With the proliferation of super powerful smartphone chips, 2018 saw the likes of the iPhone XS, Google Pixel 3, and Huawei Mate 20 Pro prove that the image capture quality of smartphones can still leap, even within the sensor and lens size restrictions imposed by the smartphone’s form factor.
The driving force? On-the-fly AI-infused magic that combines multiple images taken by various sensors, or multiple images taken in rapid succession by a single sensor. For the ins-and-outs: check out Devin Coldewey’s excellent analysis.
3. The long tail
 How a maturing industry finds growth. On the business side of things, the maturing photo industry is increasingly aware that one size doesn’t fit all. By catering to specific use cases or the needs of specific demographics (from teenagers that want to hang instant photo prints on their wall to grandmas who’d like to view their grandkids’ photos on a convenient digital photo frame that these kids upload remotely), vendors are developing segmented long-tail solutions for capturing, enhancing, organizing, sharing and printing photos.
And yes, they even include several new breeds of cameras, as we analyzed in our The Long Tail of Cameras study.
4. Stories
The happy medium between permanent and ephemeral. This mobile-native sharing format is rapidly becoming the medium of choice through which consumers visually share whatever in their daily lives they feel beckons to be shared. Introduced by Snapchat and since surpassed by Instagram, Stories enable consumers to share how their day unfolds via photos, short videos, text or graphics.
No need to restrain yourself, as most Stories, while not fully ephemeral, disappear after 24 hours. With currently 1.2B Story users worldwide on any given day, the Stories format is on a path to surpass Feeds in 2019 as the primary way people share what’s happening in their lives according to Facebook.
5. Subscriptions
The new holy grail of monetization. Of course, every vendor would love to derive a reliable revenue stream from their customers, but can consumers be convinced to commit themselves to a monthly fee? After more failed than successful attempts in the past, software companies seem to have figured it out (starting with Adobe Creative Suite several years ago), so have cloud storage vendors (subscriptions are a natural fit for an ongoing need such as storage), and now app developers are also on the bandwagon, leveraging the subscription options that app stores have started to offer.
In the photo world, we heard last year at Visual 1st about Lightricks’ daring move in this direction (which has since proven to be tremendously successful). This year, most successful photo app developers have followed suit – or are in the process of rolling out subscription offerings.
6. Videos
 It’s coming, it’s coming, and now finally it’s here for real! Heralded for a long time as the visual format that would challenge photos, the capturing, enhancing and sharing of videos is finally going mainstream. It took a fair amount of technical innovation (such as smartphones capable of taking 4K video at 60 fps, devices offering sufficient storage space, and AI-based video editing or summarizing tools, to name a few), to push the use of user-generated videos forward. But what appears to be the most important driver is the array of solutions that have emerged to easily create, enhance, or share short form or hybrid videos/photos, which we’ve referred to as phodeos.
Not convinced? It’s time to download TikTok and ponder why they’ve amassed 800M downloads to date.

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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