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Smartphones eating PC & Camera markets!

If you purchased a digital camera in the last few years, there are few incentives to upgrade! Like the PC market, the camera market is being eaten alive by smartphones! 


Today autofocus speed, the number of autofocus points in the frame, the time to capture image from cold off, the resolution of the images, sharpness of the images, hue depth, color accuracy and white balance accuracy; these are the metrics used to differentiate cameras!

Woot Canon!

I believe in Canon, the only camera company that is completely vertically integrated, in many cases their camera and lenses Made in Japan. Sony is the other major camera player that manufactures imaging sensors, ones that Nikon and others buy for their cameras. I am a canon guy shooter! I like cannon camera, cannon lenses, and I really like that cannon does not make smartphones; how they focus on their core competency, cameras, imaging sensors, imaging processors, imaging technology! I believe that Canon builds the best sensors, the best cameras and the best lenses! But not even Canon can hold back the trend in photography that smartphones are creating.

Smartphones Killing PC Market Too

The PC market was just surpassed by smartphones in the US in 2015, with 74 million smartphones shipped compared to only 72 million pc's. Chances are that your 2008+ computer can do everything you need a computer to do, a faster GPU perhaps a worthwhile upgrade for a gaming machine, or a better monitor for everything. I went with an iMac 5K because I wanted a clean sleek, wireless, desktop setup with a big beautiful display and performance that is good enough for editing movie clips I shoot without a lot of delay. It Worked!

If You have It

The best camera is the one you have with you, and I usually have to deliberately focus on bringing an actual camera with me when Meg and I go do something fun that I want to document with greater visual capturing power then our pair of smartphones would otherwise offer. For me it also comes down to the SD card and post processing of video, zoom lenses, better low light performance, faster autofocus, higher resolution, better images, better video, the ability to use the SD card to edit the images on any of my computers; we have windows machines, mac machines and linux machines in our collection.

Death of Point & Shoot

When a market starts to shrink, there is less money available for research and development. Management has to be rational with accounting, the engineering efforts are cut back, and the company is forced to adapt to the changing market conditions. I remember reading articles a few years back about the death of point and shoot camera, yet today I encounter people who still use dumb phones, and cameras, usually older people who became bored with the upgrading, product research cycling, so common with younger people. Point and shoot cameras have not gone away. Once someone gets a smartphone with a good camera, its likely their other cameras will not get as much use, not unless they are interested in photography as a subject!

Small Optics = Weaker

The cramped optics on a smartphone blow chucks compared to even a basic point and shoot with optical zoom, a real camera is going to capture more light with more options, allowing you to reach further with your images, to go wider with your images, to shoot better macro with your images, to capture good images in lower light. Even the latest Apple iPhone 7+ had to combine 2 rear imaging sensor + lens assemblies to give it more optical performance. Keeping the thin light form factor in a smartphone makes it harder to integrate camera worthy optics! Smaller sensors = smaller pixels = less light per imaging cell. There is a reason that Pro's use cameras with full frame sensors! There is even a push to go beyond 35mm sensors, to 70mm sensors and beyond, to give cameras a bigger optical edge over smartphones, especially now that we are moving into the 4k / 8k video capture era of super big data, especially in cinema capture.

Chemical Film Still Attractive for Movies

With some irony, directors like Christopher Nolan even advocating for the continued use of large format film in movie production, the chemical film giving greater image quality because chemical film is an analog chemical process without digital 1 & 0' approximations, step function modified sign curve digital CMOS images, the chemical film gives better color capturing, better resolution, and in general is a more refined technology that has been around a lot longer. From film, they move to digital intermediate formats that are lossless, very big data, scanned frames, super high performance drum scanning technology. The cost of chemical film is not obstructive in big budget productions, so film continues to be used. Regular people mostly stopped using film cameras years ago! Today its harder to find film for a film camera, unless you do like many people and shop online. Fujifilm still makes really high quality 35mm film FYI. Kodak is almost gone, restructured and now really only a brand, the chemical film industry has been shrinking for years.

Weight, Size, Cost, Performance

In engineering there is no free lunch. Innovations are the only things that make new inflections possible that change the ratio returns on investment of the four primary attribute classes of anything, namely weight, size, cost and performance.

It does not matter what it is, cost is the most important constraint. Cost is the money that was consumed in the production of a product that is no longer available for use.

Weight and size might seem obvious as engineering constraints, but there is more to this. The camera body size does make a portability difference, and lenses can dramatically influence the weight of your setup. Obviously this only applies to ILC or interchangeable lenses cameras, like the Micro-Four Thirds or APS-C cameras with larger sensors. Larger imaging sensors require large optics, so size and weight is relative to the imaging chip platform used. Lens quality will also affect the size of a system at the design level. A superb lens that is smaller with a compact sensor will produce better images than a larger sensor with a bigger lower quality lens. Plastics lenses have become common sadly, to the benefit of making lighter lenses, while generally not having good optical performance because high performance optical coatings are rarely applied to plastic lenses.

The one thing that camera innovations influence the most is optical electronic sensor performance and digital image handling. With digital cameras, the image processing and image capturing are data heavy complex computational problems that advance with advances made in other areas of information technology and computer science, especially advances made because of the competitive development of smartphones. The same technology used to produce CPU chips is used to print digital imaging censor CMOS chips used in digital camera. Many imaging CMOS sensors perform computation within the imaging chip, giving complex phase based autofocus with many focus point remarkable autofocus performance in newer imaging chips as an example. Managing noise from the CMOS sensor is also a computation post processing task that can be partially accomplished on the imaging sensory :) cool huh !

Battery Powered Image Computing

Consider the CPU in your phone, and similar ARM processors in digital cameras. ARM cpu designs dominate the computing on battery powered smart electronics, like the magic that enables blink detection in a digital cameras, something that many smartphones can also do. The smartphone is a $300-600 sensor enhanced computer that you can hold, usually with 1 or 2 days of average battery life depending on use case. Digital cameras have an energy budget, usually a little bigger than the battery in a smartphone, also digital cameras almost always have user replaceable batteries. Many smartphones by comparison have non-user replaceable batteries.

Batteries affect the run time of electronic devices, so having a camera with swappable batteries is really important if you plan on shooting a lot of photos or video in the field! Try using your phone to shoot a lot of video and you will fill up the phones memory and drain your phones battery quickly. Similarly using a phone as a GPS unit drains the battery quickly, so its wise to always plug into a 12v outlet adapter if you are going to use your phone as a GPS in a car, and be careful not to damage the charge port on your phone by jerking on the cable when its plugged in, especially if it is micro-usb!

Portable Power Packs

A new class of lithium ion USB power bricks started to emerge along side the widespread adoption of smartphones, case makers like Mophie even integrated battery life extension technology into their iPhone cases. These really cool portable power bricks often have a pair or more USB ports that you can plug your device charging cables into. With people on the go so much these days, and phones with sealed internal batteries, who has time to stop and wait for an hour for their phone to charge. With the power brick you can bring the charging capability with you. Most of these power bricks are pocket friendly sizes, some of them are even strong enough to jump start cars! Lithium IMR technology makes super high performance LED flashlights possible, vaporizer devices possible, high performance light weight vehicle jump packs possible, and portable power packs of all kinds that are light weight and high performance!

Cameras when Traveling

You have to bring at least 2 batteries and your charger! Some trips are a once in a life time opportunity. Cameras often cannot be charged using cell phone chargers, so make sure to fully charge your batteries right before you leave for your trip, also bring your camera battery charger along. I would recommend also bringing at least one spare SD card! Having power when you need it illustrates how power enables our electronics to work. Imaging trying to start your car with a dead car battery. You need batteries that work to enjoy modern life, there is no other way around it.

The Grid

Imaging if the electrical grid turned off, what would happen to society if it was off for a long time. That electricity so many of us take for granted, is vital to modern life. You can feel the value of power when your smartphone battery is low and you are on the go, battery anxiety that give short range electric vehicle drivers a butt puckering experience at times as well. No one wants range anxiety! This is why the 300mi per charge Tesla Model S did so well! BMW offers a really cool range extending generator option in their i3 ReX design! If you are driving an i3, and end up with a low state of charge, the range extending motor in the ReX model will kick in, providing 22,000 watts of energy to enable you to make it to a charging station without running out of power! I think that is awesome. The downside of the ReX model is that the generator adds cost and weight, decreasing the electric only range a little, while increasing the complexity and number of things that can do wrong. BMW's are not known for electrical system reliability in the first place..... I am curious how the i3's in the world will hold up over time by comparison to other BMW models!

Autopilot means more computers & cameras in future cars

Cameras, radar, lidar, machine vision, deep learning AI, cloud computing, there is a lot that goes into the Tesla Model S autopilot. The Model S is very much like a smartphone car, with remarkable performance, a beautiful big center console display, it feels like a smartphone with powerful electric motors! The Model S is connected to the cloud, sharing data that helps Tesla improve the autopilot every time someone drives a Tesla. The system works like a fleet hive, its remarkable, cool and interesting! Imaging sensors developed for phones and image processing technologies developed in cameras, all of these technologies are being integrated into future cars that drive themselves. With mobile internet built in, autopilot cars can learn as a group connected to a cloud computer platform, and this enables more AI training time in less time, the power of collaboration demonstrative in this example!

I have a digital camera built into one of my cars. The 2014 Honda CR-Z has a backup camera system, the display is cleverly hidden in the rear view mirror, only visible when you shift into reverse, it disappears as soon as you shift out of reverse to neutral or into another gear! I thought this was super cool, especially given the poor rear visibility of the CR-Z's body design. Its a cool, fun, efficient car, and I am glad I bought it. No autopilot here, autopilot is a few years away from the mainstream automobiles. All the manufactures are working on machine learning AI for autopilot, but few have released working version in real world vehicles. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that Tesla with the Model S, is the only company that has a big fleet of real vehicles in the world equipped with Autopilot technology today!

Millenials Rejecting Car Ownership

A new model emerging for shared car ownership, if the cars can pilot themselves, then shared ownership models will be possible. Uber is already trying self driving cars that drive to the customer, and this kind of shared vehicle use model makes rental car companies function today. Most privately owned vehicles sit for 20 or more hours per day without being used. This means they are not getting a lot of duty cycle, and thats good, because most cars were not designed for heavy duty cycling. Only long haul trucks and some commercial vehicles are designed to operate for 16 hours per day. The 24 hours of lemans race in france perhaps a good reference example where manufactures have to heavily modify their cars to enable continuous use for 24 hours.  Not even the human body can operate at high duty cycling, everyone has to sleep, so the brain can piss out metabolites that would otherwise sour cognitive capacity, if sleep is avoided long enough it results in brain death from metabolite poisoning.

Driving Simulator Games

Forza Horizon 2 was a partnership between automakers and Turn 10 studios to try to inspire young people to become interested in cars again. The under 30 demographic today is more interested in playing play station 4 and Xbox one, and games on their smartphones and tablets. The iPad and iPhone combined have actually become the worlds most popular gaming platforms!

Interested in Anything Cool !

I am weird older millennial who likes cars, engines, rocket motors, electric motors, just about any technology, I find electronics of all kinds interesting, especially any examples of AI in consumer products, any examples of machine vision in traffic cameras that can read plate numbers, I find emergent technologies like Fusion energy extremely interesting. I am interesting in high tech recycling, high technology eco-friendly chemical products, and any new or emergent technologies that are cool, like self balancing scooters, the internet, Facebook, twitter, google, wikipedia, video editing at home, cameras, guns, explosives, fireworks, gardening, life, stem cells, philosophy, education, any new technology that allows people to live in new ways, to go further, to do more, to live differently, enabled by new technologies to capture life, to live life differently! The potential of a smartphone has more to do with its user then the technology it contains. Guns require a human operator to become dangerous. Parked cars are not dangerous until a human pilot takes control of the car. Its the people that make the difference, not the stuff! Zoom way out and you will see that smartphones are erroding the PC and Camera market because our culture is adapting to new technologies, and with the new comes change. It would be counter intuitive if the market was expanding for anything if people do not value the products or services as much. Speaking of what people value:

Camping for a Product Launch

People camp in front of Apple stores for a new product launch. People camped in front of Tesla stores for the launch of the Model 3 so they could put a $1000 down payment on a car they will not see until late 2017 or more likely sometime in 2018. If you think about what this means in terms of the changing culture, then this article should make perfect sense! We are forging ahead with new technologies, innovations that excite people! Mobile LTE data, cars that drive themselves, higher resolution everything, bigger data, more ways, interesting days! Thinking about it!

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