On the one hand, it’s a big leap from coding a website for socializing to making physical hardware, especially hardware as advanced as today’s smartphone. On the other, all Facebook would have to do is request bestselling phone manufacturers HTC or Samsung offer some new phone designs to choose from. However, even that move would beg the question of what operating system a Facebook phone would run: even though it’s reportedly getting along much better with Apple these days, and some iOS tie-ins are in the works, Apple certainly would not allow any other company to market a device with its iPhone software. Even less likely is Facebook offering an Android phone, the OS from arch-rival Google. That leaves Windows Phone as the only likely contender, and we’d bet Facebook sees no reason to tie its brand to Microsoft. [And Microsoft’s utter failure with its Kin “social phones” should give Facebook reason to reconsider even the idea of entering the phone hardware business.]
All told: most photos today are taken with phones, and more photos are shared and stored on Facebook than anywhere else. The company even noted the importance of photography to its success in its prospectus for its stock offering, and Facebook’s drive to dominate mobile imaging lead to its acquisition of Instagram last month. Also: The scuttlebutt in Silicon Valley is some former Apple engineers are now employed at Facebook, and working on the phone plans. And lastly, Facebook has more than 900 million active users — selling a phone to just a fraction of them could make for a worthwhile venture. Given all that, a Facebook phone would not be a surprise.
Rumors about Apple are of course piling up in the weeks before its annual developers conference, at which it regularly makes significant announcements. Most interesting is talk that the company will offer not just another camera-phone, but also a standalone camera.
Apple is no stranger to photography, of course: almost two decades ago it was actually one of the very first companies to market a digital camera to consumers, and today its iPhone is by some measures the single most popular camera used. Also, as many online pundits are now noting, former CEO Steve Jobs is reported to have listed photography as one of the three remaining markets he wanted to fundamentally change.
While we’ve long argued that there is a market for a device with a better sensor and optical zoom lens that worked as an accessory to an iPhone — providing better image capture and using the phone for connectivity, display, and computation — there may also be an untapped market desire for single device, a camera that matched the image quality of a respectable <$500 pocket camera, but which also provided the ease of use coupled with untold expandability that iOS and its many third-party apps provide photographers. Imaging is one of the leading categories for app sales today, showing that iPhone owners are willing to pay for more photographic capability. Might they pay a few hundred dollars for a device instead of $1-5 for an app? Well, this enthusiast would. An iPod Touch is now $200; it, sadly, has a mere <1MP sensor and a rather poor lens. But a photo-upgraded Touch — with a larger, more light-sensitive sensor and a fast optical zoom lens, priced at $300–400 — would be hard to pass up.
And it almost goes without saying that this new camera would have WiFi if not 3G: photography today is both mobile and social, and so going forward, new cameras must provide connectivity. With iCloud and its photo streaming functions, Apple is good-to-go here.
We’ve long argued that the camera industry is hurting itself by continuing to make “dumb cameras” — devices with no operating system, no expandability, and no social connectivity — and we suggested an enhanced iPod could be a perfect “smart camera” back here in September 2010.
Let us know what you think in the comments: Apple camera, yay or nay?
We’ll be discussing the future of image capture in all its many forms at The 6Sight Future of Imaging Conference in New York on June 25-26. We hope to see you there.
And Dave Winer makes a good case here that Facebook could actually develop a social camera.