Identity Crisis

Combining two or more products into one multi-function device is not a new concept. Manufacturers have been at it for years, coming up with new and fantastical combinations, solving problems around the home and in the workplace that most of us never even knew existed. Some are genuinely worthwhile, whilst others ultimately, are completely pointless.

When I was six years old, I came across a Teasmade for the first time. It was a fascinating device, but the idea of combining an alarm clock and kettle seemed utterly comical. My Granny loved it though. Today, some thirty years later, the idea of being woken up in the morning by the smell of fresh coffee sounds wonderful, however the idea of boiling water at the bedside freaks me out. I’m not a morning person, and something tells me it would be a recipe for disaster. Other hybrid gadgets don’t worry me quite as much, at least not from a self-inflicted-injury perspective, although I do pay particular attention when changing blades on my blender-mixer-food-processor.

Clocks and kettles aside, it was only a matter of time before some smart cookie decided that combining cameras and mobile phones was the recipe for a match made in heaven. This was a techno-marriage that everyone could benefit from, not just the Facebook generation, and one that served up equal doses of fun and functional. Even though the first models were really rather basic with low resolution, fixed-focus cameras, over the past ten years they have come an awfully long way. Advances both in digital camera and mobile phone technology have seen underlying components get smaller, more efficient and more powerful, and today the very latest camera-phone models feature cameras with high-resolution sensors, autofocus and even high-definition video recording. But where will we be tomorrow…?

Tomorrow, there’s going to be a shift in focus (er, sorry) as Panasonic announce the first mobile phone under their Lumix brand. Forgetting for one moment that there are obviously no confirmed specifications at this stage, what is clear to me, is that this is going to be a camera with built-in mobile phone capacity, rather than a mobile phone with a built-in camera. That’s a big deal.

I love my iPhone 4. Other people no doubt love their Android phones. Some people use BlackBerry’s. It’s all too easy to lose sight of what these so-called ‘smart-phones’ are though, as in reality, they’re not phones at all – they’re pocket computers. Computers that have been shrunk down Mrs Pepperpot style to such diminutive proportions that they fit in the palm of your hand. Computers that are always connected to the world-wide-web with its’ infinite resources a mere Google search away (other search engines are available). Computers that run telephony apps that let you speak to – or even see – the person on the other end of the line.

Of course, let’s also not forget that these days, cameras are essentially computers too – albeit computers built into a familiar camera-like form-factor, with optimised hardware and bespoke software.

It really is all about the software, but in the case of cameras, camera-phones and phone-cameras, the hardware is equally important. Miniscule, noisy sensors nice photographs do not make. Mediocre lenses won’t help matters either. I’m reminded of Marty’s line in Back to the Future: “You built a time machine… out of a DeLorean..?” – you can only work with the components available to you.

To be fair to Panasonic, their Lumix range seems like as good a starting point as any to build the next generation of hybrid camphone. Whilst I don’t think the Lumix Phone will set the world alight, I’m optimistic about tomorrow’s announcement. Panasonic have a wealth of components and knowledge to draw on – and not a flux-capacitor in sight – but we shall have to wait and see whether it lives up to Lumix-pectations, or just turns out to be another gadget with an identity crisis.

I only hope that you don’t have to hold the Lumix Phone a certain way to take decent pictures. Having said that, it would compliment my iPhone 4 nicely.

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2 thoughts on “Identity Crisis”

  1. This tendency to make swiss army-knives out of bits is historic. Often done in the past only because ‘we can’ rather than what the heck is it for. This is where apple gets it. They think long and hard from the human perspective first (not always eg. mouse designs of past). They build it, upload the software then think before releasing.

    The software is the magic sauce, but it seems most companies don’t get this magic. Its only a couple of lines of code no ? Its part of the whole. The design, materials, functions, interface…. its everything. When you do a multi-function device you can’t just bolt-it on. Its got to be part of the DNA of every facet.

    Lets hope Panasonic, a resurgent company with good panel and camera sales can go one further. But is there space for a camera phone – not if its any other flavour than android,

    1. Well, whilst it remains to be seen whether or not there is actually any ‘magic sauce’ on the inside, now that we’ve had a first glance at the forthcoming Lumix Phone and read the headline specifications, I think it’s a safe assumption to say – somewhat regrettably – that the boat’s been well and truly missed on this one. It certainly doesn’t look like the game-changer I had hoped and anticipated that it would be, and hardly revolutionary – to all intents and purposes, it appears to just be a camera with a phone bolted on the back. I had expected more.

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