Android on Cameras: Gimmick or Meaningful Change?

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Will Android-powered cameras really change anything? Our staff sounds off on the latest news from Nikon.

After teasing from several different companies over the last year, Nikon broke new ground in the camera industry this week by announcing the S800c, a camera that will run the Android operating system.

With full access to the Google Play store's apps, the Nikon S800c offers up the possibility to a truly customizable camera. With that in mind, we turned the question over to our imaging staff at DigitalCameraInfo.com and CamcorderInfo.com. Will Android-powered cameras change anything, or is this just a gimmick?

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Jeremy Stamas (@Nematode9): I think it's a gimmick. I can't see myself downloading apps, games, or content to my camera (that's what my phone is for), but I'm guessing the S800c will attract a devoted following from Android enthusiasts. The one benefit I see is this: Having the ability to download apps to your camera will hopefully encourage manufacturers to focus on significant, physical upgrades when they release new products each year.

Kaitlyn Chantry (@lireal): I think that people enjoy customizability, but only if it takes less than 30 seconds. The smartphone industry's biggest advantage is that people can get tons of options with very little effort. If I can be out camping or on vacation and add new filters to my camera, great! ...But not if it's a poor interface, requires a WiFi hotspot or tethering, or generally works poorly. Implementation is everything.

TJ Donegan (@TJDonegan): With the ubiquity of smartphones, we all already pretty much carry around cameras with Android (or iOS). I think for the Nikon S800c it doesn't mean quite as much as it would for, say, a mirrorless camera or DSLR. That's the next big step. That said, I'm excited at the possibilities for such a camera, namely for the ability to program in features a camera never had, like timelapse or RAW shooting. If it takes off, I think it could offer real change, letting people do things with their camera the manufacturers can't. For the time being, I think it's more likely people will just end up playing Angry Birds.

Liam McCabe (@liammmmccabe): It's another knee-jerk reaction to the idea that point-and-shoots need to be "smart" to compete with smartphones. But the S800c doesn't have a 3G/4G antenna, so it's more like an iPod Touch, just with a crappy, aging OS. At least Nikon is running this experiment with a decent camera. I hope that the S800c becomes the first step toward the open-source utopia that TJ envisions, but it'll probably go over about as well as in-camera GPS and WiFi.

Chris Thomas, of TabletReaderInfo.com: If Android is on a camera, what makes it worth buying? Apps and cross-platform (camera-mobile-computer) connectivity will be the big test for the new Nikon camera; if it offers Android, does it support popular photo-sharing apps, and can it make the most of its wireless connection to make the camera something more? Usually tablets with old or outdated versions of Android are heavily hindered by proprietary versions of software and severely restricted app markets (or none at all), and this camera looks like it may suffer the same situation upon launch. It's also possible that I'm wrong, and this could be one of the first truly hackable cameras, enabling a segment of enthusiasts to experiment with the new point-and-shoot. While it may start out as a gimmick, give Android hobbyists a chance, and they'll make this camera much more than it is at launch.

Chris Snow (@BlameSnow): Gimmick. Such a gimmick. I strongly agree with Kaitlyn's point that customizability is only nice when it's also fast and intuitive. So far, none of the manufacturers have demonstrated an ability to deliver advanced connectivity features in an intuitive way. Just look at the barely usable WiFi and GPS implementations that currently pollute the industry. Other than pro photographers, do you know anyone who actually updates their firmware regularly? Same thing. The only way mobile apps become successful is with cell service, but don't we have another device for that? Oh yeah: phones.

So what do you think? Gimmick? Promising? Sound off in the comments and let us know.