Smartphones are in the process of putting a lot of industries out of business, but one of the most conspicuous casualties has been the digital camera market. With most people happy to just ‘point and shoot’, a 5-8 megapixel camera (what any self-respecting mid-range smartphone boasts) is more than enough. Add to that the absolute convenience of not having an extra gadget to carry around, and the smartphone’s popularity as a photographic tool is readily explainable. The numbers make this picture even clearer. The digital camera market in the UK, for example, was worth £843 million in 2006, and shrank to £598 million by 2011, according to market research firm Mintel. The trends for camcorders are similar. But hindsight is 20/20; the real skill is to predict these trends or act on them early enough to be in a good position when they take hold. That’s where Sony has to be commended. Sony has launched two standalone lenses that can be connected to smartphones, basically turning your phone into a pretty high-end camera. It has also launched a new phone with a 20.7 MP camera. But it’s the lenses that are interesting. Unlike Kodak, which failed to adapt to digital photography and had to file for bankruptcy, Sony is quick on its feet. These new lenses could potentially create a whole new market segment. They also attack Nokia’s (now Microsoft’s) flanks, since the Lumia line dominates the smartphone photography segment.
The main problem with the lenses is that they are quite bulky at the moment. But Sony is good at making things smaller and sleeker, given enough time. If the market is receptive to the idea of separate lenses, then Sony can further develop the lenses to be more compact. But the point is that it has shown it is not willing to go without a fight.