iCamera: Thoughts on Apple’s rumored digital camera

A number of industry heavyweights are currently designing Android-based cameras, including Nikon Polaroid and Samsung. Unsurprisingly, it seems as if Apple may be interested in bringing its own camera to market as well.

Clearly, there is a place for an iOS-powered camera and there may very well be a way for Cupertino to design one that has mass market appeal. Let’s explore this idea further.

Phone Camera vs. Digital Camera

A lot of us leave our point and shoot cameras at home and are perfectly happy using our cell phones – some of which offer pretty decent picture quality.

Sometimes it can lead to disasters,  like with a guy I once met who put his phone in a sandwich bag in a rather cheap attempt to snap underwater pictures. In the end though, the lenses and flash on your typical sub $200 camera are just vastly better than what would you find on a typical phone. Of course, if you do want to go underwater, you can also buy better cases for real cameras or find ones that are already waterproof which will work far better than your phone.

Then again, a smartphone is far handier because it is always with you and you can generally share pictures instantly, whereas a camera is better at taking pictures but it is far more limited (even the connected ones) in terms of sharing pictures. 

Flip Lesson

A while back, one of the most popular cameras was the Flip, as it was easy to shoot movies with and featured a USB connection along with a sub-$100 price point. Cisco bought and killed the company by moving the price point to $300 – yet failed to create a compelling or competitive product.

The next camera headed to market at that time was actually a connected device very similar to what Apple might very well build in the near future. Unfortunately, Cisco pulled the plug before it ever shipped so we don’t really know if buyers would have purchased it or not.

However, we did learn that above a $200 price point you have a number of experienced camera companies competening in a reasonably mature and lucrative market that smartphones are steadily eroding. The other lesson? If your big advantage is a sub-$100 price point, you’re likely better off improving the $100 product, rather than chasing $200+ camera segment where you probably can’t compete as effectively.

But just because Cisco failed doesn’t mean Apple, which is much more consumer focused, couldn’t succeed.

Apple Camera

As you may recall, Apple was one of the first firms to create a digital camera (QuickTake) way back when. It was actually a credible effort, but ultimately killed by Steve Jobs when he returned and wisely forced the company to refocus. The real problem the Apple camera faced was that 90s technology wasn’t up to the challenge.

Indeed, even getting a 1 megapixel camera (most were a fraction) was nearly impossibly expensive.   Storage, particularly Flash Memory storage, was massively expensive and the end result was overpriced, crappy cameras. Nowadays, though, an Apple camera, which would likely be an iPod touch with an enhanced camera – could easily be competitive in the sub $300 class, as it could allow for optimized on-camera management and easy editing of photos.

Plus, you could even have someone look through the lens and snap photos remotely while you moved the camera around and took direction over Skype or some other digital service. With tethering becoming more popular, you could even use your phone in conjunction with the camera for the same purpose.  Heck, you might even be able to create a Siri like on-line service that could capture what other people shot at the same location – while providing uggestions on where to go and how to frame the shot. Now expand this to augmented reality and you could conceivably craft in – right on the camera – stock images or pictures.

The handy thing about doing things like this with the camera rather than back home on iPhoto is that you might frame the shot differently to make the illusion work. To be sure, once you are home you may find that you needed a shot you didn’t realize you needed on location. Ditto for overlays.

Wrapping Up: Apple Camera

As we blend smartphones and hand held computers, there is definitely an opportunity to create a new category of cameras. I’ve likely only touched on the tip of the iceberg with regard to what you could do with Apple’s interpretation of such a device. Remember, there are two other areas Jobs wanted to transform: TVs and books, with cameras coming in third. 

These initiatives are likely being carefully considered in Cupertino, meaning that Steve Jobs may actually have a bigger impact post life than while he was alive and running apple. This isn’t exactly uncommon, as change often takes decades to truly materialize – like with Thomas Edison or Walt Disney. 

So do you think an Apple camera is a definite possibility? And what would it need to look like before you found the product compelling enough to buy?