The Pros Versus the Amateurs

Sometimes interesting things happen near simultaneously. 

Today I had the experience of sitting through two live high technology product announcements (thanks to streaming, because they were on opposite coasts so I couldn't possibly attend both). One was Sony's New York City unveiling of the RX10 Mark IV. The other was Apple's Cupertino unveiling of the Apple Watch Series 3, Apple TV 4K HDR, iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, plus the iPhone X.

Both companies are high tech powerhouses. Both are throwing lots of new core technology into the electronic guts of their products. 

One plays like a pro. The other seems like an awkward teen trying to play like a pro.

This is a marketing difference, a message difference, an integration difference, a user solution difference, and a product line difference.

Apple, having done this for decades now, is the polished pro. They're not quite firing on all cylinders—the fact that the Air Power system was only sneaked instead of announced shows that they're juggling way too many balls to get everything perfectly coordinated—but they sure are putting together an impressive experience. 

Disclosure: I use Macs, iPhones, iPads in the business, and own an Apple Watch and Apple TV. I also own and shoot with Sony cameras.

Handoff almost works. What that means is that I can answer calls while sitting at my computer (or now via my watch), or pass photos or other documents I'm working on between devices. I say almost because there are still some glitches. The other day I didn't get any phone calls and couldn't make any. That's because Handoff got confused about something. It took turning it off and back on to restore my phone ("Did you try turning it off and on?" ;~). 

But the thing that was clearly apparent in Apple's two-hour presentation was that they're just running pedal to the metal. While you sometimes see a lot of writing about all the sensors and cameras that are starting to be added to try to build a smart car, guess what, the iPhone X is pretty much showing everyone what you do when you have  tons of cameras (regular, IR, depth), projectors (dot projector!), and sensors all coordinating together. 

As silly as the animoji feature might seem, that really brought things together for me: you just can't do that without all that cutting edge tech inside. Oh, you could try, but it would be a pale imitation, at best. Apple doesn't just go all in with the tech, they really try to carve out how it can be used in ways that trigger the imagination and spirit of the user. Just a quick random thought: if Face ID can do that for my face, what might that do for researchers trying to assess, say, subtle animal cues that they might have missed?

Apple is seriously pushing the boundaries with their tech. And they're relentless in identifying and adopting any emerging tech that allows something new, like Qi. Why the heck doesn't any camera work with Qi yet?

Sony, too, is seriously pushing the boundaries, with some of their tech. 

The RX10 Mark IV announcement gave us another of Sony's Stacked Sensor cameras, this time a  US$1700, 1", 24-600mm f/2.4-4 all-in-one camera that now can shoot almost 300 images (JPEG or raw) at 24 fps with phase detect autofocus that should be similar to what the A9 manages.

But the thing that struck me in watching the two roll-outs almost back-to-back was this: Sony's presentation missed the heart and reverence for their tech, and it relied too much on Spec Wonders as opposed to putting things fully in a user perspective. Sony's press conference was amateurish when compared to the Apple gathering.

Look, the RX10 Mark IV sounds great, but I want it instead of an A9 why? Or an A7? Or an A6500? Is the only thing I want a huge stack of images that fill my card almost instantly that are a pain to get through a workflow and out to social media, my Web site, or my client? Oh, and battery charging? Yeah, that still sucks (the RX10 Mark IV, like many Sony cameras doesn't come with a "charger," but rather with a cord and an AC Adapter so you charge it via USB. Yes, that's nice as an option, but since these cameras suck down more than one battery a day if you really use them at 24 fps, it's just not the way I want to charge. Indeed, I want a multiple, separate battery charger, like the US$11 Newmowa dual USB charger [advertiser link] you can pick up on Amazon (yes, it works with the RX 10 Mark IV batteries)). 

The funny thing is, Sony is for the most part better at this marketing game than the rest of the camera makers. Certainly better than Nikon. But I still couldn't be helped to get that amateur-competing-with-a-pro feeling watching those two product introductions back-to-back.

Fredric Filloux wrote on Monday Note last week "Memo to camera makers: put Android in your device or face extinction." Funny thing is, the Sony cameras have Android built into them. That's how the PlayMemories stuff works. 

It's not an OS that will solve camera maker's woes, it's solving user problems. That might take an OS behind the scenes, but frankly, I don't want to be burdened by an OS to do something.  Most of the time I'm using the things that the OS enabled to get my work done. 

And that's where the camera makers are amateurs. They just aren't connecting to customer needs. Yes, it'll take great tech, and Sony's sensors are certainly great tech. But that soccer mom that Sony probably would like to target with an RX10 Mark IV: just how easy was it for her to get their child's goal captured and posted on Facebook? Please don't tell me that she had to browse through 300 images in the sequence to find the right one, then toggle into another mode on the camera, chant some mumbo jumbo correctly so that it works, and then...oh wait, PlayMemories doesn't have a Facebook app. Which means that she'll have to learn how to use PlayMemories to send the image over to her smartphone and do the heavy lifting there. Oh, and since she's got Wi-Fi enabled on the RX10 Mark IV to do that, there goes the battery...

Come on guys. Apple is designing the pants off you. And presenting their offerings better. And solving real user problems. 

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