#642. Monday Post (10 September 2017): Trying not to be a Luddite

#642. Monday Post (10 September 2017): Trying not to be a Luddite

 

Ten thousand songs in my pocket? Why would I want that? It’s just something else to carry around.

 

Phone. Camera. Separate items please. Why the hell would I want a telephone that took pictures?

 

Two instances (of many) when new technology has left me scratching my head and even when explained by the most patient of marketers, has left me bewildered until the penny finally dropped.

 

And, I know that I’m not alone. Many years ago, a cartoon in Punch magazine showed the overstocked yard of a rocking horse manufacturer, with two clearly worried, white coated managers looking at each other and one says to the other; “Installing a microprocessor is a fine idea Jenkins, but what the hell is it supposed to do?”

 

I try very hard not to be a Luddite, but there are just way too many occasions when stuff slips by and I fail to see the benefits on offer.

 

 

 

 

So, last week when Pascal sent me a link to an article suggesting a camera manufacturer uses the Android operating system in future models, I decided not to make a snap judgement and move on. I got to thinking about what a mainstream operating system (OS) could bring to photography and you know what? I still don’t really know.

 

First, let’s consider the camera’s functionality. Other than communications, a different OS probably wouldn’t deliver much that the manufacturer hasn’t already enabled in their own camera’s OS. Those stand alone OSes have been around a while and are now relatively bug-free and well tested, something that can’t always be said for Android and it’s offshoots.

 

BTW, Apple’s iOS doesn’t figure here. The company stopped selling to third parties years ago and shows no sign of changing that decision. A pity, as anyone with an iPhone, or iPad will tell you it’s a brilliant piece of work.

 

So some flavour of Android it is, which brings us to another tricky problem. Google delivers the basic OS and whoever uses it adapts the essential code to their own needs. Immediately, Pentax/Android might not interoperate with Sony/Android, or Hasselblad/Android or whatever. Out of the window go any cross platform benefits, unless and in the extremely unlikely situation that manufacturers willingly agree a common environment for communication between cameras, computers and other peripherals. Can you imagine that? Thought not.

 

 

 

 

Unless it is still powered by a slowly burning chunk of charcoal, your current camera already has a microprocessor and unlike the rocking horse, it is responsible for all manner of critically important functionality. But, chances are it isn’t the ARM-designed processor, sold by the billions for phone and tablet use and won’t run any flavour of Android. Now, will Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Sony et al dump years of work and investment to buy other technology? Convergent technologies definitely don’t fit into that business philosophy so it doesn’t seem like it’ll happen, unless there is a compelling reason to abandon a strategy which has kept the wheels and profit mill merrily turning for years.

 

Maybe a new entrant into the camera field might opt for Android, an ARM processor and code written specifically for their own unique camera’s needs? Could be, but please before that happens, please remind me how many camera manufacturers there are currently and how many of them are witnessing precipitously falling sales?

 

 

 

 

Peering over the technology fence into the neighbour’s yard, I see a myriad of ostensibly different Android-powered phones. Every one has some USP (unique selling proposition) feature, but when the chips are down, they’re all built on a common hardware/OS platform and aside from how it unlocks (or doesn’t) when you look at it, interoperates with your coffee machine, or takes some kind of novelty photograph, the only real differentiator is it’s ability to not burst into flames and the price you pay for it.

 

Last question; might the world’s camera manufacturers voluntarily choose to abandon profitable and clear feature benefits for a world driven mainly by the prices they charge? I didn’t think so either.

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This week’s photographs have no relevance to the article, but I could hardly leave it photograph-free. These are some of the early images I’m collecting for a gallery called “Cape Winelands”. If you’ve been here, you’ll probably recognise some of the places. If not, it’s about time you did. Photographs mainly shot with the delightfully slow and cranky Fuji X-Pro1 with Fuji’s own 35mm f1.4 and the X100T.

 

 

18 Comments

  1. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron September 11, 2017

    I am perfectly content to let someone else worry about such stuff, Paul – you can volunteer for it, if you like – I just want to be able to pick up a camera and take photos, without needing a degree in computer science to do it. If that means I get called a Luddite, then “sticks & stones might break my bones, but names will never hurt me!” 🙂

    Anyway, the way I take photos, I don’t need most of their clever toys.

    • Avatar
      bob hamilton September 11, 2017

      Jean pierre,

      I couldn’t agree more…..and that goes for processing RAW files also…the easiest and most intuitive processor the better, even if it means a little bit (and, nowadays, given the quality of the various processing engines, I do mean “a little bit”) less resolution or IQ, who cares as the joy is in taking the images (ie. being out in the big, bad world) and seeing them come to life in the printed form.

      Kind regards,
      Bob

  2. Avatar
    philberphoto September 11, 2017

    Paul, you are so good at visually walking us through your own adventures/discoveries. Highly enjoyable!

    • Avatar
      paulperton September 11, 2017

      Thanks Philippe. Maybe I missed my vocation somewhere?

  3. Avatar
    Peter Oosthuizen September 11, 2017

    While I appreciate the ability to take pictures with my ‘phone, I would hate to have a camera that receives ‘phone calls! Solitude, concentration, time to dream, creativity (such as I have), all form part of the package that roaming with a camera means to me.

    The cell phone stays on silent and if I want to I can pick up a message or return a missed call – I don’t have to!

    Love the images, Paul and definitely not a Luddite!

  4. Avatar
    Fabrizio Giudici September 11, 2017

    … what a mainstream operating system (OS) could bring to photography and you know what? I still don’t really know.

    For instance: viruses and, in general, security nightmares (I’m not sure, though, that these things are not already a problem with cameras that accept “applications”, such as Sony’s; but a general purpose o.s. would make it worse).

    are now relatively bug-free and well tested

    Ah, yes, I was forgetting one thing in addition to viruses and security problems: crashes. 🙂

    “sticks & stones might break my bones, but names will never hurt me!”

    LOL, I didn’t know that sentence. Written down. In any case “luddism” is an irrational rejection of technology, I mean, without any solid basis. Reckoning that an excess of technology is useless and harmful can’t be labeled as luddism.

    Seriously, I’m a computer engineer and Android is one of the technologies in my CV. A long time ago, for a few days, I wondered about a camera with Android as the operating system. After mentally exploring the consequences I stepped back. The photographer part of me would enjoy a few features that could be delivered with a software package in the camera – mainly customisation of auto-focus -, but in the end the best solution is to expose a sufficiently rich API from the camera (e.g. like the Sony API) and then develop the software as an external thing.

    • Avatar
      Adrian September 12, 2017

      The Play Memories system is a “walled garden” where the only place to which the camera can connect to download Apps is Sony’s own App Store – which only offers Sony written Apps. To my knowledge there is no other way to get programmes onto the camera. Windows Mobile and I suspect iOS take a similar approach, and from what I understand the Windows Mobile browser is effectively quarantined in its own box to prevent web page content having any access to the rest of the device / OS.

      Android isn’t so secure, partly because people “root” their device, partly because the Google Play store doesn’t vet Apps very well (plenty of Apps found with malware inside!), and partly because Android by its java like nature seems to be a bit prone to security leaks.

      Having mused on this over night, I tend to think general purpose processors and Android are entirely unsuited to the heavy maths based processing and performance requirements of the “data pipeline” in cameras – hence why most cameras used custom designed processors that are specialist (therefore performant) at the things cameras do.

      I never spent enough time to understand how Samsung did it, but the “camera” was an App within the typically hideous desktop that is Android, with other Apps randomly scattered across its screens. I’m not sure people want a camera that has a UI like a phone (I.e. Stripped-down computer). I think embedding the required features (retouching, sharing etc) or taking Sony’s approach of a proprietary app based system might make mote sense – or simply hanfing off those other tasks to the users smart phone with apps that integrate to the camera for all the remote control, sharing, retouching etc – which is pretty much what some camera makers do, albeit sometimes without a great technical finesse

      I dont know who is the person referenced in another comment imploring camera makers to embrace Android, but I think he’s plain wrong.

      • Avatar
        Fabrizio Giudici September 12, 2017

        Android by itself may be less or more secure than any other general purpose operating system (BTW, being related to Java means nothing, for a number of technical reasons). But anything that is connected to the internet is potentially prone to attacks – and if it has support for accepting applications, is even more prone. State security agencies are known to use malware for surveillance purposes, and they target iOS too AFAIK.

        I agree with your suspicious attitude about Google, definitely. But every big company is not so different, Apple included (Google is worse because they have more services and more people runs them). That’s why I don’t want any of them involved with my cameras.

        PS Sony apps are so vetted that to me they are basically useless: I don’t find particularly useful filter applications, or anything that can be done in post-processing. That’s another problem: if one wants apps to be successful, the ecosystem should be opened to a wide group of developers, which unfortunately weakens the vetting effectiveness.

  5. Avatar
    Jamie September 11, 2017

    I’m sure the Luddites would object to your phrase in particular the word irrational.
    “In any case “luddism” is an irrational rejection of technology, I mean, without any solid basis”

  6. Avatar
    Ronald Thain September 11, 2017

    At times, I get the feeling that Apple wants the iphone to be the camera that replaces all cameras. However, with the experience they are building up, a device that was primarily a camera should be a possible project for them – it’s just that it would not be a general purpose device.
    When I use my iPhone to take a photograph, then open it on the iPad to finish it and publish it, i wish I could do more of my photography like this. The dream comes crashing down when I can’t batch edit or tag, or find an image taken at a wider aperture or slower shutter speed or longer focal length. Perhaps a bluetooth-enabled camera like the new Fujifilm X-E3 will be a solution for one side of the equation. Will the promised capabilities of iOS 11 and the inevitable avalanche of new software fulfill the other?
    I posted about this at: https://idreamedof.wordpress.com/

  7. Avatar
    Dallas Thomas September 11, 2017

    Great photos Paul, I look forward to seeing the full collection in due course. I enjoyed your technology forthinking.

  8. Avatar
    Adrian September 11, 2017

    If one wants to ruin a user experience, Android is a good way to do it. Even Google’s head of Chrome said at a company event that the Android UI and user experience needs to be improved. As you comment, Google makes the basic OS and the hardware manufacturer then “tailors” it to their device (the word I often use if “bodge”), which then results in handsets that have 2 or 3 email clients and 2 or 3 app stores, confusing the end user. The general user experience is made worse by the generally poor Android UI, and again a tendency for the handset maker to feel the need to customise or embellish it.

    The other major issue is that it’s not very efficient, which results in phone handsets sold on specification of “octa-core processor” and such nonsense, since the OS is very resource hungry and requires a lot of processing and memory to run efficiently – and why low end Android handsets often have a thoroughly miserable user experience of delay and generally unresponsiveness.

    It also creates a huge problem for App developers. A survey of handsets revealed there were something like 8000 distinct handset builds, which makes App development and testing a minefield of compatibility issues. It’s also often difficult to find out if a specific App will run on a specific handset as the requirements are often not published (or not in enough detail), so you could buy a handset and then find your desired Apps are not compatible with it, simply because they won’t appear in the App store from your device.

    The Samsung Galaxy camera, their NX system flagship, ran Android and the “camera” was effectively an App that ran within the OS. Many liked the additional features such as sharing to online services and creating a wifi hotspot from the camera.

    There were rumours of Nikon making a camera phone, and if they did almost certainly it would run Android. I hope they don’t as it’s another ship that has sailed and it would be too little and too late. Panasonic had no success with their 1″ sensor camera phone, and I don’t think the Nikon brand is going to convince anyone buying a phone, to be honest.

    Strangely, lots of people are very “snooty” and dismissive of Sony’s “Play Memories” system that runs on their e-mount cameras, which allows owners to download Apps from Sony. Some add real value such as ultra-long exposure simulations and graduated filter simulation, using exposure merge to create single raw files and remove the need to expensive filters.

    The final issue I have with Android is it’s creator – Google. They have a very poor record of respecting privacy and rights, scanning every Gmail account to build user profiles, hovering up private wifi data “accidentally” whilst driving the streets to create Street View, and scanning copyright protected books without asking the authors permission – amongst a host of other issues. The very idea that a device must be “signed in” to their services to work, and therefore allows them to potentially monitor and track every action or data packet doesn’t give me a warm comfortable feeling. I appreciate they are not alone in this, but they are one of the worst offenders for their lack of transparency and “dirty tactics”. “Do no harm” is simply self deluded management double speak.

    Phone makers use Android because it’s free and it gives them a platform to build phones on, but it doesn’t in itself give them any competitive advantage – hence the proliferation of idiotic marketing led ideas of eyeball tracking and gesture control and heartbeat monitoring and curved screens and other useless fripperies that have little to do with function and utility.

    Surely camera makers having their own eco-system and user interface becomes a source of uniqueness and therefore competitive advantage? And, much of the development of the software that runs cameras has been done, and often needs to be “baked into” custom silicon chips (processors) for performance. Trying to run a camera with it’s maths heavy raw development and demosaicing etc on a “general purpose” processor/computer running Andorid doesn’t sound like a winner to me – do I really want the hour glass spinning as I wait for my device to gather up its skirts and decide to get on with what I want to do? Or crash? No thanks

  9. Avatar
    PaulB September 11, 2017

    Paul

    I am afraid the android based camera has already arrived. And departed. Along with it maker (Samsung).

    PaulB

  10. Avatar
    MELVIN WHARTNABY September 12, 2017

    It’s not that cameras should become phones (who wants to pay for another monthly data plan?) but rather that cameras should do more phone-like things that make it easier to share photos. The DSLR and mirrorless manufacturers keep trying to address this issue but the results always appear awkward and half-hearted. Meanwhile, as Frederic Filloux points out in his “Monday Note” blog, “Memo to camera makers: put Android in your camera or face extinction,” the Apple Imaging Group (alone) has more than 1,000 engineers working tirelessly on technical advancements. The camera makers we like will need to do a lot better if they want to stay relevant.

  11. Avatar
    NMc September 12, 2017

    Paul
    I thought that ludites violently raged against the machines, not just failed to get with the program. Anyway pedantry aside, I guess that the theory is that phones become a gateway drug for photographic GAS. Potentially a large failure of logic and misunderstanding of the difference between operating for ease and convenience versus controlling for precision and quality.
    Regards Noel

  12. Avatar
    Cliff Whittaker September 13, 2017

    My cell phone is one step advanced from rotary dial. The only reason I carry it is in case I have to make an emergency call. I resent its weight and space in my pocket.

    • Avatar
      jean pierre (pete) guaron September 13, 2017

      ROTFLMHAO – thanks, Cliff – I thought I was the lone survivor from the bygone era when telephones were telephones, and if you wanted to take photos, you got a camera!

  13. Avatar
    paulperton September 13, 2017

    Interestingly, Them Hogan (http://www.dslrbodies.com/newsviews/the-pros-versus-the-amateur.html) seems to be thinking along these lines too:

    “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…”

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