The Short Answer Part II

I received lots of feedback to “The Short Answer.”  All of it good. 

But I did notice that a lot of folk are missing some of my point. A couple of emails today provoked responses by me that need to be made more public, so I’m following up my original article with a few more thoughts. 

First, however, let me correct an assumption a lot of you seemed to make: that if camera makers would just do what I suggest they’d staunch the smartphone onslaught. Not at all, actually. That ship has sailed and it gets bigger sails and more wind every day. Cameras will never take back what the smartphone took away. And the smartphone will continue to take away photographic opportunities as it gets better and better. 

Still: the camera makers would like to sell cameras. What I’m trying to point out is that in order to do that, you can’t ignore the smartphone, you must instead embrace what it taught us people wanted.

People don’t (think they) need dedicated cameras because they already have something that does an adequate job with them all the time, their smartphone. The only way you get those people to buy a camera is to bridge the gap: (1) you have to make the camera’s use and workflow as simple as they’re used to, but (2) produce a benefit that they don’t currently get that makes it worth carrying/using the added device. 

The camera makers certainly haven’t done #1, and much of that centers around the “sharing” aspect I wrote about. I don’t mean sharing as in “share on Facebook,” by the way, but in a much broader sense: as in “getting my photo from my device to someplace where some other person can see it." We used to “share” photos by taking them out of our wallet or getting out the photo album or mailing duplicate prints to our friends and family or even putting them on a wall. These days we have way more choices, and the thing I was trying to point out is that the smartphone is just far better at getting your photo where you want it than your camera. It “shares” naturally. Cameras don’t. Customers won’t go backwards. Once there’s a “better way” that has to be the way. 

The camera makers' marketing is also terrible at making #2 clear. You’re sitting in the stands of your child’s soccer game and they make the big play. How’d your smartphone do in capturing that? Note that there are smartphones that are already doing a better job of marketing on this very issue than the camera companies are! The ad for the Nokia smartphone where all the parents are rushing the stage with their phones and tablets to try to get more pixels of their child while the 41mp Nokia user sits at the back totally content is a good example. But the camera makers simply aren’t making the same case, even when they add longer lenses to compacts. The best they tend to do is emphasize pixel count or actual focal length numbers, which are just specs, not a true marketing message. User benefit. Those are two words a lot of camera makers need to not only post in big letters over the entrance of their buildings, but also make sure that the marketing departments get fully on top of. That’s going to be tough. Samsung outspends Nikon on advertising what, 10 to the 5th power or something like that? Apple gets the emotion of advertising. Nokia gets the user benefits in their advertising. And both those, too, are spending more than most camera companies on marketing. Is it any surprise cameras aren’t selling so well? So not only do the camera companies need to up their game when it comes to marketing, they’re going to have to up it big time because they’re playing with a smaller megaphone. 

Another aspect that’s getting lost by the camera makers is usability. Take a few raw file shots with your DSLR. Now hand the camera to your mom, or sister, or child and ask them to send shot DSC_1129.JPG via email to your dad and watch what happens. Now take a shot with your smartphone and ask them to do the same. Notice a difference? ;~) Right, the smartphone makers are solving user problems and making discoverability a key point in their user interfaces. The camera makers are adding features and burying them in more controls and menus. And, of course, leaving the real workflow to software on your computer.

But you have to start somewhere. That somewhere was right where I suggested in the original article: “how do I get this shot where someone can see it?” Couple that with “why is this shot better than the one I took with my smartphone” and camera sales will rise again. Fail to answer those questions with dedicated cameras and what we’ll have is a generation raised on mass market devices (smartphones) that aren’t interested in progressing to specialized devices (cameras). 

We’ve seen this same thing play out in other technologies before. You save your industry by understanding why the mass market devices are popular, then finding a way to bridge some of those users to more specialized devices. Your TV has speakers in it. Why are sound bars one of the fastest growing consumer electronics products? 

text and images © Thom Hogan 2013 -- all rights reserved // @bythom on twitter, hashtags #bythom, #gearophile