When Apple Speaks, the Camera Industry Gets Sicker

(news and commentary)

Apple today launched a new TV campaign. A one minute ad of people using iPhones as cameras with only one line at the end: "Every day, more photos are taken with the iPhone than any other camera."


In marketing, this is known as the "validation point." We have the new leading practiioner making a claim that is not going to be easily refuted (if at all) and doing so in a broader marketing campaign than the established industry generally runs. If you didn't believe that most pictures were being taken with smartphones before, once this campaign gets broadly seen, everyone is going to start thinking of the primary camera in use today as being a smartphone. Everyone. 

The net effect of that will be to increase the speed of demise of the compact camera, I think. The next steps we'll see are things that make smartphone cameras more like the old low end compact cameras: bigger sensors, modest zoom lenses, better imaging ASICs, etc. That will just reinforce the message that compacts are no longer necessary.

Frankly, the camera makers are getting what they deserve. What camera maker has actually managed to get across a clear message about why you need their compact camera even if you have a smartphone? None. Zero. Nada. 

Such marketing should actually be very easy: "Daddy, why don't my phone camera pictures look like yours?" "Well, son, that's because my camera has features and abilities your camera doesn't." Instead, we get ads trumpeting 40x zoom and BSI sensor and a whole host of technological terms. But we're talking about the great mass market here. They don't understand technical. They would understand the message I just presented. 

The sad thing is that the camera industry made this mistake before, back in the late film days, when instant and disposable cameras stole their sales in the mass market. The camera makers not only didn't learn anything from that, they apparently also didn't think it would repeat (though I and others started writing that it would back in 2003, so it's clear some of us saw what was about to happen).

When you consider how many photography resources Apple and Google have, how good those organizations are at marketing when they want to be, the camera makers have a long tough road ahead of them. 

Fortunately, Nikon has strong DSLR sales, even though the market itself is somewhat weaker than it was. I'm going to write it again: Nikon needs to shore up DX before it's too late and before Canon gets off their butt and shores up their APS line. Then they need to make both DX and FX shine even brighter. "Why don't my pictures look like yours?" "Because I'm using a camera and accessories that are the best there is." 

Here's the thing. Ask any Nikon DSLR user if there's something missing (feature, performance, ergonomics, lens, accessory, simplicity, workflow, whatever), and the answer is yes. If you want to be the leader in cameras, the answer should be no from as many of your potential and current customers as possible. It doesn't feel like Nikon is closing the yes gap very fast, if at all.

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