The iPhone 4 (s aapl) is about to become the most popular camera used on Flickr (s yhoo), while traditional point-and-shoot cameras are experiencing a sure and steady decline, according to newly released data (via PCWorld). The numbers are a good indication that, even four years after its initial release, the iPhone is still disrupting markets.
Last week, Cisco (s csco) made waves by announcing the closure of its recently-acquired Flip mobile video camera brand. The Flip brought cheap, portable, decent-quality, HD video recording to the masses and rode the wave of YouTube (s goog) and online self-video publishing to become a popular portable device. But then smartphones, including the iPhone 4, gained similar-quality, HD video recording capabilities, and the Flip was no longer the hot commodity it once was.
The iPhone topped Flickr’s list of user cameras in 2009 following the release of the iPhone 3GS, and that was back when the best iPhone camera boasted only a 3.2-megapixel resolution. The iPhone 4 has a 5-megapixel sensor, but leaving aside tech specs, many agree that it performs better (on paper) than some of the more powerful cameras found on Android and other devices. The iPhone’s camera is another example of Apple’s philosophy that user experience trumps a hardware capabilities arms race every time.
This time, though, the data specifies the iPhone 4, not Apple’s entire line of iPhone devices, which speaks to the popularity of Apple’s latest smartphone. It’s also significant that this time around, Flickr-released data shows point-and-shoot cameras are steadily declining in popularity. The takeaway is that smartphones are nearing the tipping point in terms of camera quality when it comes to the needs of most average users (professional and prosumer DSLRs continue to do well), and the iPhone 4 is leading that charge. Phones provide a much more convenient on-hand camera experience than do dedicated devices, and the trade-offs in terms of quality and feature are becoming less significant all the time.
Android devices, despite the growing market share of Google’s OS, aren’t appearing in the top rankings for a couple of reasons. First, Android’s market share is far more spread out across a variety of devices, whereas new iPhone users have only a couple of choices when it comes to handsets. Second, Apple’s camera is still celebrated as being among the best available for mobile devices, despite its relatively low megapixel count.
Based on this data, and on general usage observations, I’d say the iPhone is about one or two updates away from rendering point-and-shoot cameras all but obsolete for most consumers. It’s true that really good analog zoom will likely remain out of reach for smartphones, but consumers who really want those features will increasingly gravitate towards the prosumer end of the DSLR spectrum, while everyone else will be well served with their mobiles. Expect a lot of disruption still to come from Apple in this area.