Nikon has just announced an Android-powered point-and-shoot camera—the $349 Coolpix S800c. It’s a 16Mpixel camera with a 10x optical zoom but the real innovation appears on the back in the form of a touch-panel
LCD 0.8Mpixel OLED display that is immediately recognizable by anyone who has every owned a smartphone. The Nikon Coolpix S800c runs Google’s Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and has a built-in WiFi connection so that images taken with the new camera can be easily uploaded to the Web. Now I’m not a big image and video uploader (wrong demographic) but Nikon is specifically targeting this camera at consumers who regularly use online services such as Facebook and Instagram. In fact, the video on this announcement page repeatedly underscores the camera’s use as an instrument of social media interaction.
This new Nikon camera is an excellent example of how embedded systems are migrating to 32-bit processors (including the ARM Cortex-A9 processor reported to be in this camera) and large, standard operating systems and GUIs such as Google’s Android. With that migration, embedded systems are also using far more RAM and ROM (or Flash) than ever before—the Coolpix S800c is reported to contain 512Mbytes of RAM and 4Gbytes of NAND Flash memory—which is precisely why Micron Technology’s VP of Embedded Marketing Jeff Bader brought this new camera to my attention today at the Flash Memory Summit.
The Nikon Coolpix S800c is not just a camera. It’s a portable device with a WiFi connection to the Internet that’s able to run many of the 500,000 Android apps that are on the market. Not aimed at my age bracket perhaps, but an important feature to many potential camera buyers.
It’s appropriate to ask why anyone would need an Android-based point-and-shoot camera when there’s already one built into every smartphone. Nikon’s video, mentioned above, addresses that question directly. The Coolpix S800c camera’s optics, imaging sensor, exposure control, fill flash, and shutter responsiveness are all vastly superior to the corresponding elements in a smartphone. It’s easier to take better photos—in most cases much better photos—with the camera than with a smartphone. For people who care about image quality, those better images could make the difference. For others, the idea of carrying a second device to replicate the image-making ability of their phone won’t make sense. Different strokes, and all that.
Micron’s Bader asserts, and I agree, that embedded products such as the new Nikon coolpix S800c will become increasingly common as consumers first become accustomed to and then will expect advanced touch interfaces on all of the electronic products that they purchase. Their buying habits are being shaped by high-end products from successful systems companies including Apple, Google, and Samsung. Others will need to follow, or risk being perceived as old-fashioned, outmoded, and—even worse—obsolete.