Gear Where You Are


As people grapple with the ongoing battle for your tech mind now under way between Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung, let's step back for a moment and take a different look at the general picture. (And yes, this is relevant to photography, so keep reading.) 

Most of the time you see the battle described this way: desktop versus mobile. In this version, Apple, Google, and Microsoft all came from the desktop and, once it became clear mobile was taking off, shifted over to try to take advantage of it. Apple went from desktops to laptops to phones/tablets. Google went from desktop browser searches and advertising to mobile. Microsoft went from desktop operating system and applications to desktop and mobile versions plus hardware for the mobile side. Amazon has mostly been tinkering with mobile. Samsung had been fooling around with mobile, and then got super focused once shown the way by Apple.

But is that really the primary metaphor to look at? 

I'd argue no. There are more than two things you have to win at if you want to  provide consumers with tech for all their needs. Let's look at my version of the customer:

  • Nests. We all have a nest. Some of us have a primary nest and a secondary nest. What the heck is a nest? In many homes it's the big screen in the living room. Hooked to it are a DVR, a game console, a cable box, and possibly much more. Many of us also have office nests, sometimes a modest one at home and a bigger one at the office. These nests need backup storage, printers, high-speed Internet connections, phones, and sometimes things like fax machines and other dedicated devices.
  • Transport. We all get from one place to another via some kind of transport. For some, it's their commuter car. For others, it's public transport. Sometimes, it's a chain of things: car to airport, airport bus to terminal, walk to gate, fly to another airport, bus to rental car, rental car to destination (which may be a temporary-nest-away-from-home).
  • Truly Mobile. Whether it's walking from home to the park, walking through downtown, or walking through a store or mall or national park, the primary thing here is that it's just you and whatever you can carry.

Now let's look at our tech gear a bit differently: how is it connected? Typically:

  • Nests: WiFi connected to wired Internet of some kind. 
  • Transport: Bluetooth to Cellular connection.
  • Truly Mobile: Cellular, with occasional WiFi substitutes when available.

As a consumer, I want a seamless experience with all of those things, which is one reason why I predict that Amazon is out of the overall race already. They aren't currently fully successful at any of those pieces I just described, so they have the most ground to make up. Against the other four big players? It's a long shot, at best. 

Think about Apple in this context. My nests are highly Apple. My living room Nest has an Apple TV and can connect to many of my devices with iTunes and/or AirPlay. My office Nest is completely Mac, and one of my Macs can go mobile (MacBook). My Truly Mobile experience is an iPhone and iPad, both of which have perfectly fine Bluetooth that talks to my Transport (auto). 

What's missing in my Apple experience? Well, the center of my living room Nest doesn't have an Apple-branded TV or DVR. It's not run directly from iTunes and iCloud, it's run indirectly at best. My office Nest doesn't have an Apple printer, though that doesn't seem like a big gap. My Transport still needs work in talking to my Apple gear. Some things I can control (some vehicles have better iPhone integration than others), some things I can't. The communication is also mostly one-way: the iPhone can communicate to the car, but the car can't communicate things back to my iPhone. For example, I can't have my iPhone record from the car radio for later playback (the missing DSR). I don't get vehicle information sent to my iPhone that can be worked on by an app that reminds me about oil changes, etc. 

It's in the Truly Mobile area that things get a little shaky, believe it or not. Basically, you have to have your iPhone out for it to do any good. Sure, you can use a Bluetooth headset to make phone calls with the phone in your pocket. But for anything else, the phone has to be out and in my hand. 

This is where Google Glasses and Apple iWatch start to come into focus: they give you an alternative for interacting with the phone without having to hold the phone. Yes, there's plenty of room here for innovation, and it probably is an eventual Next Big Thing. That's because such a device, theoretically, can interact with your Nest and Transport, too. 

Now what does this all have to do with photography? Good question. The camera companies don't think in the way I just described. They're not after user experience so much as unit sales of something they know how to produce. They're more in the selling boxes business than in the solving user problems business. 

They really need to think more along the lines I just outlined, I think. My camera gear needs to work whether I'm in my nest, on transport, or truly mobile.

When I'm in and around my nests, why must I do anything to have images get saved in the right place? There's so much wireless communication bouncing around my nests that it ought to be a no-brainer. Just shoot. The images should end up where I want them to be (e.g. predefined and customizable actions). 

Every studio owner does the same thing: they start wiring up their studio to have instant displays, instant saving, and automatic backup. And we all run into the same complication in the end: we usually need a wire running from our camera to a computer to get any reasonable performance and the right workflow. Even the queens of the studio, cameras like Hasselblad, don't help us out much. Total Fail on the part of the designers to understand their modern customer. 

Okay, so what happens when I'm Truly Mobile? Ironically, I can now get WiFi to my phone or tablet, but do I want it? No. Again, the workflow is all wrong, and my 32GB phone and 64GB tablet probably don't have enough storage to handle all they need to do. Moreover, I don't really want to pay the phone companies to move data around, as they charge far too much, so there needs to be a temporary storage mode that waits until I have a fast, cheap WiFi or cabled connection active to complete the moving of my images. Worse still, when I stop being Truly Mobile and return to my Nest, there's still no help in the workflow. 

Back in 1976 I got into high tech and fell in love with it for a simple reason: we were changing the world. We solved customer problems, gained them productivity, made new things happen, and collapsed the distances between things. Apple still seems to get that. Samsung has learned from Apple. Microsoft has gotten off Balmer's butt and started to move. 

Google? Why they want to sell devices for little or no profit when their actual business is something else (advertising), I don't know. If they don't succeed by making Android/Chrome dominant long-term, they'll have blown their connections with the others who do succeed, and that will crimp the one business they do make money on. Gear is sexy. Code isn't. Yet it's behind-the-scenes code that made Google what it is today. 

Amazon? Bezos has disintermediation down. But to what end? Investors are still propping up Amazon's willingness to take no margin just to say they have a customer [disclaimer: I own a small amount of Amazon stock]. Okay, you've got customers now Amazon, can you actually serve them better and solve their device problems? Ironically, yes, if you sell gear from those other makers at little or no profit. Oops. 

Camera makers? Don't get me started. They're a mess today because they're not connecting with their customers directly. At all levels, we're forced into workflows that are not what we want or need. Plus we're still getting giant gear that requires a neck brace, uh excuse, neck strap, to carry. That's one of the reasons why those smartphones are coming out when we shooters go Truly Mobile. If all we need is a snapshot for Facebook or whatever or flavor of the day is, Apple and Samsung have that down pat.

It's the twenty-first century folks. Let's not carry twentieth century designs and thinking forward unless it still works. 

text and images © Thom Hogan 2015 -- all rights reserved
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