While much of the buzz leading up to last Wednesday’s Samsung Mobile Unpacked event focused on the Galaxy Note 2, it could be argued that the real star of the show was the Galaxy Camera, Sammy’s new Android-powered point-and-shoot. Sure, the Note 2 is an impressive piece of kit, but it is essentially an incremental upgrade of a device we already know. The Galaxy Camera, on the other hand, could represent the future of point-and-shoots, or an entirely new class of product altogether.
There’s been much talk of Samsung the copycat over the past month or so, but the Galaxy Camera is an example of the Korean manufacturer using its experience in multiple product categories to introduce something really new. Like the original Galaxy Note, it’s a new spin on an existing category of device that’s just crazy enough to succeed. And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Read on to find out why.
It’s easy to forget that Samsung is about more than just smartphones and tablets. Though the company dominates the smart device landscape, it’s also involved in a wide range of other markets. At the IFA 2012 show in Berlin, much of its main booth was populated by glistening LED TVs, and it even had a second hall in another building, where it showcased everything from cleaning robots to refrigerators. Somewhere in the middle of all that is the company’s point-and-shoot camera range.
At last year’s IFA, Samsung debuted a range of Wifi-enabled compact cameras, and like most devices in this category, they were running their own non-expandable proprietary software. As mobile devices in general become more connected and app-friendly, it makes less and less sense to develop these kinds of products in a bubble. Presumably, that’s an idea that presented itself to Samsung’s camera team over the past twelve months, when the decision was made to bring smartphone hardware and software into a point-and-shoot camera.
Samsung already produces all the individual components required to make a compelling connected, smart point-and-shoot. The company already makes touchscreens and chips for Android-powered mobile devices, as well as software to enable features like on-device sharing, video and photo-editing. It already produces and sources lenses and image sensors for its standalone camera line-up. The parts are all there, waiting to be assembled into a next-gen compact camera.
With other manufacturers pushing towards connected cameras with ever-expanding functionality, it makes sense for Samsung to combine its strengths into a product like the Galaxy Camera, and attempt to leapfrog the competition. Most point-and-shoots still run janky proprietary software that’s neither intuitive nor powerful. And though TouchWiz isn’t the prettiest Android skin around, compared to the average point-and-shoot UI, it’s an oasis of usability.
In terms of software in particular, Samsung has already done most of the hard work. TouchWiz on the Galaxy S3 boasts video and photo editing out of the box, as well as a wealth of sharing options through bundled apps like YouTube and AllShare, and other apps via Android sharing intents. And if it’s half as developer-friendly as Samsung’s line-up of smartphones and tablets, you can bet we’ll see no end of extra functionality hacked onto the camera within days of release.
The inclusion of Instagram on the device, in addition to features like Wifi direct sharing, shows that Samsung’s keen to position the device as a social camera. But for content creators, the Galaxy Camera is an even more tantalizing prospect.
Take Android Central as an example -- when we visit a large trade show like CES, MWC or IFA, we need to handle a huge amount of photo and video content, and get it turned around within a short space of time. Traditionally, liveblog photos need to be uploaded through a combination of a DSLR connected to a laptop over USB, using PC or Mac apps like Photoshop and Chrome to crunch them down to size and upload. The use of a Galaxy Camera could reduce this tedious process to the press of a single button within our liveblog provider’s Android app.
Similarly, for quick hands-on videos on the show floor, we’d be able to record content directly on the camera, patch in audio from an external source, add intro and outro segments and upload to YouTube, all without pulling out a laptop. Needless to say, we expect to see more than a few tech journalists rocking Galaxy Cameras at next year’s CES in Las Vegas.
Sure, this is a niche use case, but even the simple task of taking and sharing vacation snaps could be made considerably easier with an Android-powered camera. Having an easy way to catalog, edit and share photos on a dedicated imaging device is going to be extremely useful to a lot of people. It’s true that you could do most of those things on a Galaxy S3 or HTC One X, but not everyone is inclined to pick up a high-end smartphone with a high-quality image sensor if they already have a point-and-shoot. And besides, there’s currently no smartphone that offers a 16MP sensor or 21X optical zoom.
On the other hand, the Samsung Galaxy Camera isn’t going to replace your DSLR. It’s a point-and-shoot camera, and we’d expect image quality to be comparable to other high-end cameras in that category. There are also concerns about how much the Galaxy Camera will cost, as Samsung has so far remained quiet on pricing. Price it too high, and many of the benefits become irrelevant.
For us, the Samsung Galaxy Camera is an exciting product, and an example of something we always like to see -- Android being applied to new and interesting device categories. Sure, it’ll be a long while before smartphone tech finds its way into the majority of point-and-shoot cameras. But based on what we’ve seen of the Galaxy Camera and its benefits, we’re confident that we’ll soon be wondering how we ever got by with cameras that just took pictures. After all, it wasn’t long ago that a mobile phone was just a phone.