Can Apple’s iPhone Camera Investment Help Drive Camera Sales?

Alan Bullock
Dec 24, 2015

Apple iPhone Camera Module - 60 Minutes Screen CapThe two-part story about Apple on CBS News’ 60 Minutes last Sunday (December 20, 2015) covered a lot of ground, including CEO Tim Cook filling the shoes of the late Steve Jobs, the company’s legendary commitment to secrecy, the product design process, retail stores, and government access to encrypted personal information. Buried in part one was a 90-second section devoted to the iPhone camera, which revealed a few interesting statistics:

  • A team of 800 engineers and other specialists is dedicated to the iPhone camera
  • The iPhone camera module consists of more than 200 individual parts
  • That module includes a micro-suspension system in which the autofocus motor is suspended from four 40-micron wires (each about half the width of a human hair), to compensate for the shakiness of handheld photography
  • The iPhone camera is calibrated “to perform in any type of lighting,” using lab-simulated conditions that include morning, noon, and evening sun
  • Some 24 billion operations occur for each photo captured

CBS correspondent Charlie Rose described the iPhone camera as the most used feature of any Apple product, although that statistic was not directly attributed to Apple. Regardless, if it wasn’t already clear that if the camera is not the heart and soul of the iPhone, it is certainly one of its vital organs.

While Apple’s dedication to the iPhone camera, as described in the 60 Minutes report, is impressive, other manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, and HTC are producing smartphones with excellent cameras, too, sometimes scoring higher than the iPhone in independent camera reviews. Smartphone image quality has vaulted past most entry-level (and even some mid-range) digital cameras.

Led by the iPhone, camera phones have, arguably, had the biggest impact on the traditional digital camera market over the past decade. In the early days, when image quality was poor by nearly any standard, it was deemed “good enough” by many users, especially in combination with the convenience and ease of sharing of mobile photography. Camera manufacturers were slow to respond, only recently adding Wi-Fi connectivity to a significant portion of their product lines.

Ironically, Wi-Fi-enabled cameras have come to rely on smartphones and tablets as their connectivity gateway, and provide mobile apps with which users can retrieve, edit, share, or print photos using the various apps they already have on their phones.

Smartphones are another kind of gateway for camera manufacturers, too. A certain portion of smartphone users will go beyond selfies and food shots, and actually fall in love with photography as a hobby, art form, or even a profession. As a result, these users will be prime prospects for camera sales, especially as they discover the shortcomings of even the most advanced mobile cameras and look for things like optical zoom and low-light capabilities.

Are smartphones and digital cameras enemies? Perhaps in some ways. But more opportunities will come from working together, for the advancement of photography. Here’s hoping that 2016 will see more of those partnerships that will benefit all users.

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