Smartphones and the Future of Digital Cameras

For about 20 years, I have been a huge fan of digital cameras, both DSLR and Point-and-Shoot versions. Almost every year, I would buy the newest model to take most of the really important pictures, especially one’s related to my family. I also love to capture things like sunsets and all types of seascapes and architecture as I travel the world. I am by no means a professional photographer but have taken many classes on photography and have learned enough to take pictures that I consider relatively decent.

But in 2007, when Apple introduced the iPhone and included a camera, my smartphone has been the real workhorse when it comes to taking pictures these days. In the early days of the iPhone, the camera had low pixel counts and, while OK, it did not come close to equaling the quality of the images I would get on a DSLR or even some of my high-quality point-and-shoot models. So, I would also carry one of those cameras with me when I traveled as well.

But since 2011, when Apple really started adding a better camera with higher pixel counts and included more imaging features in hardware and software, my reliance on DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras started to decline. Almost all other mid to high-end smartphones have included high-quality cameras as well and helped make the smartphone the #1 device for taking pictures.

On a recent trip to Maine, during my spare time, I took side trips to capture the changing colors of the trees. I did not even take a separate camera on this trip and instead relied solely on my iPhone 7 Plus with its advanced camera features.

I am not alone in transitioning from stand-alone cameras to smartphone cameras as the primary way people take most of their pictures. As the chart below shows, starting in 2011, demand for DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras began to decline substantially. They peaked at 121.5 million in 2010 and, in 2015, only 34.5 million were sold. Estimates for 2016 is only 13.5 million will be sold worldwide.


While having the camera in the smartphone makes them the handiest camera one can have, there is another key reason why smartphones are pretty much obliterating demand for DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras. Although the quality of the images themselves are a major driver, another factor is how easy it is to take a picture and instantly post it to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or hundreds of other social media sites that have become integrated into our digital lifestyles.

Social media and online photo storage have completely changed the market for anyone who takes pictures these days, even for some professional photographers who are now using the iPhone 7 Plus on a regular basis. The ability to take a picture and immediately send it to the cloud for storage or instantly used in a social media app makes the smartphone camera the most versatile photo taking tool one can use.

What surprises me is how long it has taken the DSLR and point-and-shoot makers to understand this. Yes, some have put wifi connections in their cameras and made it possible to export them wirelessly to some cloud storage solutions but few took the time to really integrate great software into these cameras to take those photos and integrate them into social media easily.

Also, they restricted these cameras to wifi hotspots instead of doing some type of innovative deal to include a cellular radio in their cameras so these connections could be made anywhere like they are in a smartphone. Three years ago, one of the cellular carriers told me they had a program for camera makers but could get very little traction. While costs of the connection could be an issue, given today’s data programs that tie many cellular radios to a family account, using a cellular radio in a DSLR or point-and-shoot is a viable option for these camera makers.

However, I believe that ship has sailed and these types of cameras are going to end up in a niche category. In 2017, we will probably sell less than 10 million total worldwide. Instead, next generation smartphones, especially when they get the high-end features Apple has embedded in the new iPhone 7 Plus and they start having capabilities now in DSLRs, will pretty much replace point-and-shoots altogether and DSLRs become the tools for only pro and semi-pro photographers.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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