Cameras should come with editing and cloud storage

When new technology arrives, products and companies that predate it are often stuck in the past. Traditional cameras (as opposed to smartphones) don’t make good use of the cloud, and so risk becoming obsolete gradually. How should we fix them?

First, cameras should come with free cloud storage, and automatically back up to the cloud. Say 30GB. This should be free for life, not a 3-month or 1-year promotional gimmick. Google provides 15GB free, so I expect 30GB when I’ve paid a lot of money for a camera [1]. Photos should automatically get uploaded when on Wifi, or using your smartphone’s cellular connection if that’s what you want [2].

Your media should be available from your computer and smartphone using an app, with optional syncing to your local storage for access without any additional latency, like Dropbox can sync folders for offline use. But, unlike Dropbox, synced and un-synced media should be available to access using the same interface. That is, you have one unified view of your account no matter where the files happen to be stored at any given time — local only (when they’re uploading), server only, or both. When you view your media on your camera, you get the same unified view as any other device if the camera has an Internet connection at that time.

If you have the app running on your computer [3], the camera should automatically transfer the media over Wifi to it, and ask it to upload to the cloud. That way, you can view and edit your photos without waiting hours for a lengthy upload-download cycle, the camera is ready for another shoot, and the camera’s battery doesn’t drain since it’s offloading the lengthy cloud upload to your computer.

When the camera is out of space, it automatically deletes files that have been uploaded, or those that have been marked as deleted by the user. You wouldn’t have to delete them to make space, manually empty a recycle bin, or perform any other chores [4].

This cloud service should be an existing one, like Creative Cloud and Google Photos, since those already have a variety of apps for different platforms to access your data, an ecosystem of third-party apps, users are familiar with them, and so on. The camera OEM should pay money to Adobe or Google to give users 30GB of extra storage, which can be used only by the camera.

Second, the cloud storage would come with editing features, as with Google Photos or Creative Cloud. It’s not just dumb storage like an FTP server.

Third, the camera should have a share option that transfers photos wirelessly to your computer or phone, using something like AirDrop. AirDrop is proprietary, so the OEM can build their own version, which you install on your computer. If the wireless transfer is taking long, you should be able to plug in a USB-C cable, and it should immediately speed up. You shouldn’t have to cancel a wireless transfer and then do a wired transfer. If you plug the camera in to your computer, it should immediately sync and charge, like iPhones can.

Fourth, the camera should auto update itself from the cloud. You shouldn’t have to download an OS image and flash the camera manually, which is an obsolete solution with a bad UX.

Fifth, the camera should have a mobile app for remote control. It should give you access to all settings, not just some, in the same way, with the same navigation and same constraints. Settings made in the app apply to the camera, and vice-versa. Like GoPro’s mobile app, which feels like an extension of the device, not a separate app with its own UX to learn and settings to manage. The camera should have a male USB-C port, so that you can plug it in your phone. The male port makes it more sturdy than holding the two devices in separate hands and connecting them via a cable or Wifi. It will also be faster, not drain the batteries of both device as much, and have no connection errors to deal with. When you plug it in, it should still work if one of the devices is out of battery, using the other’s battery. That is, if your phone is dying, your camera should keep it running, and vice-versa [5].

Sixth, the camera should have a touch screen, with a similar UX as when controlled remotely. Some things will have a different UX, like an on-screen vs a physical shutter button with half-press focus, but keep it as consistent as possible.

Seventh, on the topic of storage, the camera should come with a fast enough SD card to make use of all its features, like a burst at the maximum speed the camera can handle. Users shouldn’t have to research crap like SD vs microSD, V30 vs V60 vs V90, UHS-1 vs UHS-2 vs U3. People have better things to do with their time than disentangle this mess.

These changes will bring standalone cameras in line with users’ expectations, making obsolescence less likely.

[1] If they can’t provide 30GB, even 5GB would be much better than the 0GB they currently provide.

If the manufacturer finds that some features are going unused, they can encourage their use, by setting aside some space for each of those features. Like 2GB each for panorama, video and timelapse, with the remaining space available for use by all features.

If the camera has different compression levels for HEIF, like normal, fine and superfine, the free space can be used only by normal photos, not fine and superfine, which aren’t noticeably better anyway. If the camera lets you choose between HEIF and JPEG, only HEIF can be permitted to use the free space, since it takes roughly half the space as JPEG.

You get these kind of opportunities for end-to-end optimisation when you make an integrated product.

[2] Or smartphone, if the computer is not available or you prefer using your phone.

[3] To conserve battery, this can happen only when it’s charging. Till then, the wifi can be off.

[4] The Mac’s trash doesn’t automatically empty when it’s out of disk space, which is annoying. It does have an option to empty trash after 30 days, but that’s not enough, because you might need it before that, in which case some more files should automatically get deleted. Conversely, if you have extra space, the trash should be kept around longer in case you need them.

Windows has traditionally let you limit the recycle bin to a percentage of the total space, but again, if I need that space, the recycle bin should automatically shrink, all the way to zero if necessary. And if I have plenty of free space, I want the bin to use it.

So, “empty trash after 30 days” and “use 10% of the disk’s space for the recycle bin” are both the wrong way to implement a recycle in. The right way is to not offer any settings, just use whatever free space is available, automatically deleting each file from trash as needed.

[5] An extension of this line of thought is to remove the screen, most buttons, storage, battery, microphone, speaker, flash, orientation sensor, GPS, etc from the camera, using the phone’s. The camera would essentially become a lens and a sensor, with the output from the sensor going to the phone for processing, storage and display. The camera can then become smaller, cheaper, and can focus on doing what it does better than the camera, rather than having a bunch of features to fill out a checklist but work worse than a phone. This makes it simpler to use.