“Do I really need a camera attached to my mobile phone? Honestly, isn’t this just a gimmick?”
Lately I’ve fielded those questions many times over from friends and family, and even from other tech people.
Even the phonecam manufacturers don’t seem to have a clue what people will really use these things for, judging from the foolish scenarios they portray in TV commercials. But that’s typical; new technologies are never born fully-formed. Nobody knows how networked cameras will evolve, and nobody knows just how we’ll grow to use them. But special properties of networked cameras have convinced me that these tools won’t be abandoned any time soon. Some of these capabilities haven’t emerged yet but I think they’re all on the way.
Here are five important capabilities that seem unique to networked digital cameras:
1) A photographer can use such a camera to send all her photos to a single, central storage place as she takes them. This eliminates the handling of film, smart cards and other intermediary media. It means that cameras can be smaller and cheaper because they don’t need massive amounts of storage space. It dramatically simplifies problems involving backups, sorting, and after-the-fact annotation. No more rooting through PCs, CDs, servers, drawers and albums to find that great family portrait from last Thanksgiving.
No single firm or agency can or should store and control everybody’s photos. Nobody’s photos should -physically- be stored in just one facility. The media should be backed up and mirrored at multiple sites in case fires, floods or whatnot destroy the data at one site. But as far as the user is concerned, the photos should “live” in one secure spot in cyberspace. You should have just one virtual “place” to search through when seeking your photos, so that you don’t have to worry about inadvertently losing important photos, and so that you don’t have to constantly copy collected photos from one device or place to another.
2) Networked cameras provide the ability to annotate photos as they’re created, or soon afterwards. Such annotation can include written comments from the field to accompany particular photos, but I don’t think people will bother with that in most cases. Other forms of annotation might be more widely used and more important, including:
3) Networked cameras allow the capability to publish and share photos online as they’re taken.
4) Most users usually have their phonecams on hand, just as so many people nowadays usually have a mobile phone on hand. In many ways this is great news: you’ll be able to document all of life’s wonderful and serendipitous happenings; you’ll hardly ever say, “if only I had a camera at hand…” In Japan, where phonecams are old news, teenagers often snap shots for the purpose of enhancing face-to-face conversation. Most such shots are briefly shared via the devices’ small screens and then deleted, never to be sent or stored anywhere. Of course this is bad news too; when everyone carries around networked cameras we’ll all lose some of the privacy that we now enjoy.
5) Networked cameras provide the ability to transmit photos to audiences without permission from the authorities. These devices rob government officials of their ability to detect and destroy photographic evidence at border crossings. This capability will be especially beneficial in war zones and in police states.