As a commentator on tech, Jean-Louis Gassee is one of the best. Here’s one of his recent quotes: “So how is it that we don’t have connected objects that Just Work?” (see this article).
Of course, he answers the question: "With a tight budget and limited software know-how, the Consumer Electronics product development team is issued orders from on high: Get on the IoT train…now! They buy the cheapest possible processor, grab some software from the open source shelves, throw on a skimpy UI, hastily assemble and test, ship it.The meager budget doesn’t leave much room for user instructions and customer support, and sometimes leads to dubious design solutions.”
This is exactly the problem that we have with cameras now. They really should be fully connected to the modern world and Just Work. Instead, they’re partially connected through wobbly and problematic design choices that solve the problem for the development team’s need to satisfy their bosses, but do almost nothing to solve any problem the user might want solved. Like “immediately share the photo I just took to the service I want.”
And don’t get me wrong, that’s the minimum user problem we need solved. I can go much further and describe dozens more photographer user problems that aren’t even being approached by solutions.
Now that Nikon’s finally delivered SnapBridge for iOS, the rest of you can now see just how far we’ve come: that’s one tiny step for Nikon; no real step at all for camera users. Houston, we have a problem. Oh wait, Tokyo…
The funny thing is that Nikon has spent all this time and energy making SnapBridge go from a manually intensive bridge between camera and smartphone via Wi-Fi (the WMU units) to being a manually intensive bridge between camera and smartphone via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Yeah, that proved to be worth the year+ wait.
Sadly, it doesn’t seem like any of the Japanese camera makers got the message. They wonder why no one wants a new camera. Well, they don’t want a new camera because that new camera didn’t actually solve the biggest problem they have: instant, social sharing to the places the users frequent. Nor did it solve any other of the big problems they have, like getting images automatically from the camera to their family’s centralized system of storing and archiving those images.
I drew the way it needed to work for camera designers back in 2009 and presented it to Nikon executives in 2010. Nothing’s changed. Okay, some new social services have appeared, a few new options for cloud storage have appeared, but realistically, the problem is no different today than it was in 2009.
One problem is that the camera companies all want to be proprietary in a land of openness. Nikon wants you to move all your images through Nikon Image Space before you can move them to where you really want them, and even then they don’t support all the places you’d really want them because someone in Tokyo is trying to hand code all that stuff and isn’t keeping up with the ever-changing Internet APIs.
Gassee uses the Amazon Echo as an example of something done right. Indeed, the simple image he uses in his article says pretty much all that needs to be said:
Always ready. Check. Always connected. Check. Fast. Check. And look at what it’s connected to: a bunch of thinks that aren’t Amazon proprietary; a bunch of useful things provided by third parties (and growing every day).
But I guess the Japanese companies need a bigger clue. So let me use the Amazon illustration and update it for the camera makers:
Funny, that looks a lot like what I presented to Nikon in Tokyo in 2010… I’m pretty sure that in six years I could have put together a team that managed to create something that fit that graphic.
What Nikon got (mostly) right with SnapBridge:
- Bluetooth. For some tasks, the low power aspect of Bluetooth 4.x is the correct choice. It would be a “correcter” choice if the camera controlled where the image was going to eventually end up, though. As it stands, you have to wait for the slowish Bluetooth to transfer the image, then do something further with your smartphone...
- Location services. GPS and time data moves very nicely from mobile device to camera. Arguably the best and most useful aspect of the SnapBridge app in its current form. But is GPS data the number one request for connectivity? ;~)
- Send from camera. Both the automated and manual send from camera processes are simple enough to use regularly. They just don’t work fast, nor do they do anything other than transfer the data. This isn’t modern workflow; this is automating the sneaker net.
What Nikon got (really) wrong with SnapBridge:
- The SnapBridge app is really just an intermediary to the camera roll. You still have to do something on your mobile device to get your image where you actually want it (e.g. sharing, permanent storage).
- iPads aren’t directly supported (you have to install the iPhone app, and thus you’re seeing scaled images).
- Multiple device pairing doesn’t seem to work.
- The SnapBridge app is effectively no better than the WMU app it replaces, but has worse performance. This is especially true when using the app as remote control to the camera, where we’ve gone backwards.
- Really long delay in finding Wi-Fi connection. Some re-connect issues. Some dropout issues, particularly on Android.
- All caps default password that’s not secure. And the usual mess and confusion if you want to change it.
- NEF and video support is completely missing.
- Device rotation only works in some parts of the app.
- Transfer speeds. My D7200 was averaging 15s for a full image transfer with WMU, my D500 is measured in minutes with SnapBridge. By comparison, the D5 with its optional WT configured to my network does the same thing in a few seconds.
- The logo (;~). The object on left should be a camera!
So here we are nine years after the iPhone woke people up to what a smartphone might actually be able to do for you. Meanwhile, the camera companies are still groggy from an apparent hibernation and are in “walking hibernation.” Yes, that’s a thing: "a period of decreased metabolism undertaken by bears in response to lack of hunting opportunities.”
Uh, guys. There are plenty of hunting opportunities, so wake up all you Tokyoites. Others are hunting and consuming all the resources you’re ignoring (that would be “customers” for anyone in Japan trying to translate this article with all its weird use of language).