Cameras have fallen behind the rest of the tech pack in regards to their ability to connect and share easily with other devices. Android seems to provide the answer to many of the issues that photographers and manufacturers face when it comes to shooting and sharing photos easily.
Last week, Engadget reported that Samsung is working on an Android-powered camera. While there was no straight confirmation or denial from the company, in a statement given to DPReview, Samsung said:
"Samsung has not confirmed anything regarding potential use of Android or any other platform on future generations of Samsung smart cameras. Like any technology, it is something we are monitoring. Our present platform is more than capable of delivering a robust smart camera experience to consumers, and we will continue to evolve that platform."
There are many reasons why a camera based on the Android platform would make sense. Firstly, users would theoretically have access to the Market/Google Play in order to download third-party apps. The camera would have all of the connectivity options that Android affords. The open nature of the platform would let users control and possibly program apps themselves to allow the camera to perform different tasks.
Then again, as Thom Hogan notes, how many photographers do you know who are able to program for Android devices — "and how many of you who program actually know how to do 'camera things' or 'image-editing things' in the Android environment?"
It's fair to say that the majority of photographers wouldn't have the time or inclination to go programming different apps for themselves. But having an open camera operating system at least gives users the option to do so, and we've seen plenty of examples of hacks organised by the photography community, such as CHDK for Canon PowerShots.
So far, there is one Android-powered camera that has been announced: the Polaroid SC1630. It has yet to hit the market, so talking about its Android implementation would be a tad premature. One thing that I am particularly looking forward to seeing in action is the responsiveness of the camera module when shooting as a regular camera, and subsequently with any additional imaging apps added on top. It's a no-brainer to use your smartphone as a standalone camera, particularly if you are not accustomed to the real-time operation of a compact camera's built-in OS. But will it work for photographers coming to the system the other way around, expecting similar performance?
On this note, processors are being developed to cater for the intensive multimedia capabilities that an Android-based camera would need. Companies such as Ambarella are pushing out solutions (PDF) that are specifically tailoring things like full HD video recording and concurrent app processes for Android, specifically in relation to camera applications.
The display also presents an interesting challenge to manufacturers. While mobile phone handsets are making strides in terms of screen resolution, it's well known that compact cameras are being churned out with pretty low-res displays. Reviewing and editing photos — to the limited extent afforded to current cameras — on such low-resolution screens isn't particularly pleasurable. We can only hope that any manufacturer looking to develop an Android-based camera bears these considerations in mind, taking the usability that we are accustomed to from mobile devices and integrating it into a camera-specific system.
We also need to think about just how locked down an Android-based camera could be. A manufacturer could easily port Android across for a camera, but it could also choose to limit functionality so that only its own apps could be used.
Like any nascent technology, we'll probably have to wait for a few iterations to come to market before the idea matures. After all, it's essential that an Android-based camera caters to all photographers, and not just those familiar with Android itself.