An Interesting Choice of Words


dpreview recently interviewed Canon executives, but I was really struck by one short quote from Canon’s Ken-Ichi Shimbori:

"Up to now, digital cameras have been following film cameras, in the sense that the goal was to catch up with the quality of film. I think we've reached that point now, so going forward, the voyage will be undertaken without a chart to guide us. It's difficult therefore to imagine what we might do next.”

Hmm. I thought we reached the point were digital quality exceeded film a long time ago. Why are we still following film? Oh, because the Japanese don’t know where to go next. 

If truly believed this way, this is one of the most disturbing quotes I’ve heard out of Japan in a long time. It also means that they still don’t understand why smartphones crippled compact camera sales. 

(To be fair, sometimes the translations used in such interviews mask nuance and obscure both the question and answer.)

When high tech companies get stuck on a product/user interaction, they tend to get passed by other companies that see a new way in which the product and user can (and should) interact. 

Anyone remember the Wang word processor? A dedicated machine that paternalistically dictated how the underlying computer and the user interacted. What happened when more user customizable and integrated workflow word processing software became available for personal computers? Right, Wang disappeared. 

Being in a high tech business is like being a (obligate ram ventilating) shark: you have to keep moving. Continuing to execute the same high tech product over and over again eventually wears out when someone else discovers something other than basic iteration. 

That’s where we are now with cameras and have been for some time. As I’ve pointed out for years now—indeed, pretty much since I discovered in 2007 that I could sit on the side of Kilimajaro and have people on the other side of the world see what I was seeing in near real time—DSLR and most other cameras are still executing the "take picture, take physical media out of camera, process it and distribute it using something else out of the control of camera makers" type of workflow. Most consumers are using more sophisticated and intricate workflows with their smartphones now, and we’re also seeing smartphone cameras that can be “programmed.” Yet we don’t really see either in regular cameras. True, there have been a few baby steps, but poorly done.

The problem, of course, is that virtually all of things that are different from the customer workflow standpoint about smartphone cameras versus standalone digital cameras are all created via software. Constantly morphing and evolving software. Software that has to stay current with Silicon Valley’s constantly shifting Web initiatives. 

I can imagine what they might do next, and have been suggesting that alternative for nearly seven years now. The fact that the Japanese don’t see it yet is disturbing, if true. 

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