Has the App Store killed the point-and-shoot?

by Avinash Saxena

The Casio Tryx might be the first step to having a camera that runs apps.

(Credit: Casio)

My first thought when I saw the Casio Tryx camera announced at CES 2011 was that Casio took a smartphone and turned into a single-function device. The Tryx is 0.6 inch high by 2.3 inches wide by 4.8 inches deep, has a 3-inch touch screen, and a fixed focal length f2.8 21mm-equivalent ultrawide-angle lens (that means no optical zoom). Take away the swiveling and rotating screen and lens design and you essentially have the body of a smartphone.
On top of that, one of the Tryx’s key shooting features is high dynamic range (HDR) photos. HDR photography isn’t new, but the use of it in the iPhone 4 certainly broadened awareness (for better or worse). If you’re unfamiliar with it, basically, the camera takes several photos at different exposures and then combines them to bring out details that would otherwise be lost in the highlights and shadows of a scene. The Tryx can also do this for artistic effect by adjusting the strength of contrast throughout a photo. In other words, this camera does what apps like TrueHDR and Pro HDR do for iPhone users.
So what you have in the Tryx is a high-powered smartphone-like camera with an app. One app. It does do other things, of course, and I’m sure Casio’s argument would be that it performs better than any multipurpose mobile device can, and that’s probably true. However, I keep hearing from readers, friends, and co-workers that they’ve pretty much abandoned their point-and-shoot cameras for their smartphones. Not because the photo quality is fantastic, but because it’s always with them, because they can share photos instantly, and because of all of the apps. A good app can turn a bad or boring photo into something worth sharing. (Ask anyone who’s ever used Hipstamatic.) While smartphones are not going to kill point-and-shoots anytime soon, camera manufacturers can’t compete with apps. At least, not right now.
Current camera systems are ridiculously closed off (Canon hacking aside), so people can’t just start developing apps for them. And camera manufacturers can’t be left to develop their own software because, well, the software would suck. Right now the manufacturers’ solution is to add in special scene modes or give users creative art filters. However, neither option matches the fun or the flexibility of most photography apps. Add in instructional and editing and other utility apps and you can start to see why people are giving up on their simple pocket cameras.
The Tryx seems like an if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em attempt at going after smartphones. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go far enough. I don’t know if Apple will ever make a new QuickTake camera and have it run on the iOS. However, there is some hope that an Android-based smartcamera isn’t too far off.
System-on-a-chip manufacturer Ambarella has developed the iOne, a chip designed for digital still and video capture that has full support for the Android OS. Match it with a good lens, a large touch-screen display, Wi-Fi and/or 3G mobile broadband, and the ability to load it full of fun and useful photography apps, and that might be worth sticking in the pocket your phone’s not in.

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