Dr. Gerry Purdy leading panel on mobile imaging at the 6Sight Summit Conference, June 22, 2011 at the St. Claire Hotel, San Jose, CA. Panel members from left to right: Margaret Belska (NVIDIA), Timo Ahonen (Nokia), David Broadman (Urban Robotics Commercial) and Marty Hollander (Vidyo).
"Mobile generated imaging will soon exceed all the digital camera and camcorder video images combined"
I was invited to give a keynote address on mobile imaging at the 6Sight Summit conference held June 21-22 at the St. Claire Hotel in San Jose, CA. I also moderated a panel on the same subject.
The focus of the presentation was on user-generated rich media – i.e., the digital photos and video that are produced by mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets) as well as streamed and downloaded to these devices.
The majority of smartphones being sold are incorporating digital cameras, camcorders and software that enable both high resolution digital images (5-8MP, flash, auto focus & image enhancement) as well as HD video.
According to Frost & Sullivan, sales of smartphones are expected to rise to over 215 million units in the US by 2015. In-Stat estimates that over 800 million smartphones will be sold annually worldwide by then with all smartphones capable of taking high res digital still images and HD video.
There are a number of major trends in mobile imaging:
- Cameras (still & video) in smartphones are improving every year.
Still image cameras typically incorporate 5MP image capture with migration to 8MP over the next few years. But, the number of pixels captured is only part of the quality of the image. The image capture and processing chip are what’s important. Case in point: look at Apple’s high dynamic range (HDR) process that takes two images (one dark and one light) and merges them together. Or, consider Apple’s ability to tap to focus on the most important part of the image.
Most cameras have built-in LED flash, but almost none of them provide optical zoom, although there’s a lot of work going on to provide that in the coming years. The bottom line: it’s becoming less important to carry around a separate point and shoot for common, everyday pictures. Convenience clearly is winning out over fidelity in most cases (see more on this below).
- Users are generating more digital photos & videos with their phone.
With the smartphone carried around with you all day long, this allows for more ‘spur of the moment’ photos and videos. And, with new software that enables automatic sharing online, the images can be quickly seen on sites such as Facebook. While higher end cameras provide more features and functionality, many users find their smartphone is ‘good enough’ for most situations.
- Data communications is playing a big role in phone-based imaging.
When users take photos or videos, the real value in the images is when they are shared with others. Thus, the images taken in the smartphone need to get transferred to the cloud (site on the Internet). Thus, wireless communications is used more for image management. And, there are cases where the user wants to listen to some music or download a video from the cloud that requires wireless communications to stream the rich media content to the phone.
Wi-Fi is becoming the communications path of choice for rich media communications whether it is from the smartphone to the cloud or from the cloud to the device. 3G (and soon 4G) can assist in this process where the content needs to be transmitted now versus later. But, the cost of 3G/4G is much higher than Wi-Fi so the user has to weigh the cost vs. time value of the transmission.
- Location is playing a more important role in mobile imaging.
Smartphones have GPS and other methods to provide the location so it can be attached to the photo or video. Then, when the user is reviewing photos and videos, the images can be search and sorted by location. Apple does this by providing an option to ‘view by location’ on a map which is very helpful for places like vacations but not so helpful for home in which thousands of images might be present.
- Video conferencing is becoming more ‘mobile centric’.
It wasn’t too long ago that video conferencing was limited to offices with expensive systems to communicate video images from one location to another. Then, Skype popularized personal video sharing that enabled (first) sharing between notebooks and (more recently) using a smartphone or tablet. Apple’s Facetime has also made it easy to do personal video conferencing. Enterprises like Vidyo now allow the people on multi-person conference calls to use a smartphone or tablet like the iPad. Clearly, mobile is becoming more popular in video conference sharing since it offers the ability to share from almost anywhere. During my trip to California, I saw someone at our hotel walking around holding up their iPad doing a Facetime call with someone to show them the views of the hotel and ocean (we had spent some time in Monterey after the conference).
- Convenience vs. fidelity is really important in mobile.
In most situations, convenience wins out over fidelity. But, in some cases, fidelity wins out over convenience. An event such as a wedding or other important event requires the best photos and videos possible. When the memory or historical significance is high, then fidelity wins out over convenience.
With hundreds of millions of smartphones taking quality still images and video, it’s safe to say that the rich media images taken by users with smartphones exceeds all the images taken by digital cameras and camcorders combined.
J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D.
Mobile & Wireless
Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column. If that situation happens, then I’ll disclose it at that time.