Monday, 2 March 2009

The fully programmable camera

After my latest ruminations on camera controls, I think the future will be in programmable cameras. First one to the line gets the sales (if not the girls).

What am I thinking of? Well - a camera with a bunch of buttons and a bunch of functions and the user gets to chose what button does what. And further, open firmware so the capabilities can be programmed. Like my card-mode adjustments. Maybe we'd just get access to the sequence and card write commands and get left to do our own thing. Firmware "hacks" would become the norm. A whole new industry. Great for nerdy tinkerers like me. Probably means set-up from a computer (or maybe a handheld device) but most of this stuff doesn't get changed very often, anyway.

Of course, there'd be the standard out of box set up like today, for those who don't want to get into all that.

I can see this helping camera companies, too. They'd get to see more of the ways people use their cameras, which would lead to more innovation. Development unfettered by common/current notions of the camera. Focus groups don't cut it - IME, ask people about what they'd like to see and the current product is always the reference. You only get incremental improvement ideas. Innovation comes from seeing what creative people do with what they've got, leading to more fresh ideas. Win-win.


  1. I think this strikes me as an engineering approach to what is actually a human interface design problem.

    I've been involved in cell phone design for over a decade now. For a long time the engineers (SW and HW) got to design the phone interfaces. Features proliferated, menus deepened, features, buttons, fancy modes, confusing menus. Motorola are probably the poster child for engineer friendly phone interfaces.

    Apple let a designer and a human interface person do their user interface. It shows. 3 buttons. Simple, one level deep menus.

    Most users (the vast majority) want one button to push to take a picture. They don't want tons of features they'll never use. People who collect cameras or play with them might, but people that want to take pictures in the main want the camera to get out of the way, not be the source of endless fiddling.

    Myself, I'd love an easily programmable, scriptable exposure control. I want to codify how I think and set up the camera. But I don't kid myself that that would make for a more marketable or sellable product.

    I seem to remember talking about this over on Paul Lester's blog a few months ago but cant find a link right now.

  2. Gordon, on the whole I'm inclined to agree and I still want a simple interface but I was really thinking around the higher-end DLSRs. I want to control what happens after I press those buttons.
    My engineering approach to the human problem is to dodge the issue. I don't know what people want, so let them do it themselves. While Apple devices have simple interfaces, they frustrate me no end with the lack of control I have over how they work.
    On another of your points - I don't think marketing/saleability, what users want and what they actually use have any correlation. The vast majority of camera users want a "auto everything" push the button get good results kind of thing. Enough resolution for email and small prints. And yet they get a bazillion options.


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