Technology Improvements Keep Smartphones a Moving Target for Camera Vendors

Alan Bullock
Sep 24, 2013

Earlier this month, for the first time in more than six years of iPhone announcements, Apple introduced a new iPhone with the same resolution camera as its predecessor. Like the iPhone 5 before it, the iPhone 5s features an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera. A closer look reveals that the new 8-megapixel sensor is 15% larger than the old one. At the risk of over-simplifying, simple geometry tells us that if the same number of pixels are spread over a larger area, then each pixel must be larger — 1.5 µ, in this case. Paired with a new f/2.2 aperture lens, the new sensor promises 33% better low-light sensitivity and generally better pictures. In addition, the iPhone 5s features a dual-LED flash that Apple calls True Tone. Its second LED emits amber-tinted light, the intensity of which is automatically adjusted to compensate for colorcasts caused by various lighting conditions

A number of camera-centric smartphones have been introduced in recent months — including the HTC One with its 4-megapixel UltraPixel camera and the Nokia Lumia 1020 with its 41-megapixel camera — just two examples of a continuing series of improvements that have seriously eroded the traditional point & shoot digital camera market. There are more in the pipeline, too, including a liquid lens than can quickly switch from wide-angle to zoom and a miniature array of cameras that can capture 3D video and photos that can be re-focused.

This is not intended as a complete list of smartphones and their camera features, nor is it a side-by-side comparison of those devices or the pictures that they can take. I actually still believe that most digital cameras take better pictures than most smartphones, but there’s no denying that an increasing number of consumers are choosing to rely on smartphones for an increasing percentage (or all) of their picture-taking, while more digital cameras are gathering dust in a closet, or sitting unsold in a warehouse or retail store.

The difference, I believe, is a culture of innovation. The frequency of new smartphone announcements is dizzying, and while not all of them contain shiny new camera features, many do. Cameras, on the other hand, normally appear in two or three waves per year, with incremental improvements usually involving not-so-exciting features like longer zoom lenses, rugged/waterproof bodies, and (finally!) Wi-Fi connectivity. Camera vendors need some innovative technology, and they need it quickly, or they will continue to watch their customers move to where the action is.

On a brighter note, more people are taking more pictures than ever before. Fueled by double-digit annual growth rates, InfoTrends estimates that U.S. consumers will capture nearly 170 billion digital camera and camera phone photos in 2017. This means great opportunities for companies that are less focused on specific devices and more focused on providing products, services, and underlying technologies that help consumers do more with their photos.

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InfoTrends’ extensive Personal Photo Activity Forecast covers the number of U.S. consumers engaged in various photo activities including picture-taking, photo editing, sharing, viewing, storing/managing, and printing. It also tracks the number of images that these activities represent. It is available to clients of our Connected Imaging Trends service or from the InfoTrends report store. For more information, please contact Matt O’Keefe at matthew.okeefe@infotrends.com or +1 781.616.2115.

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