Windows Phone: Photography the key to its success?

Windows Phone: Photography the key to its success?

Summary: To distinguish itself from Apple's iOS and Google's Android, Microsoft's smartphone platform needs to be a shutterbug's paradise.


All of my Bahamas vacation photos were taken with a low-end Samsung Focus i917 Windows Phone.

Going on vacation these days for me is something of a mixed bag affair. On one hand, I'm psyched that I'm going to get some extremely crucial rest & relaxation, but on the other, I have a lot of personal stuff going on right now in the background that's driving me completely crazy and of course I end up missing out on what is going on in the industry at large.

So to summarize, while I was beach bumming, Facebook IPOed, Zuckerberg promptly got married, and the CEO of Yahoo! resigned in disgrace with a golden parachute. Does that sound right? Alrighty then.

So where does Jason like to go on vacation? Preferably someplace cut off from civilization with warm weather, swimming pools, nice beaches, and good places to eat.

One of my favorites is Grand Bahama, as it's pretty easy to get to (It's only 60 miles off the east coast of South Florida) and has some of the best beaches in the world, with cool breezes, welcoming local people and of course, great native cuisine.

I tend to do a bit of digital photography when I go on trips, but this time, I was so scatterbrained that I forgot to bring my trusty Canon point-and-shoot.

However, I didn't forget to bring a GSM-capable cell phone. Just before I left, I packed a spare Samsung Focus lying around that I upgraded to Windows Phone Mango. I hadn't intended to use it as my vacation camera, or to do any cellular data. I simply wanted to use it for the occasional Wi-Fi email check and to place and receive occasional calls using a local pay-as-you-go SIM card.

As it turned out, the Focus had to be unlocked, was exorbitantly expensive to do locally ($80) so I bought a cheap Nokia world phone ($50) and had some minutes thrown onto it. Which left the Windows Phone somewhat redundant on my trip.

And then I realized, the Focus had a camera. And a pretty decent one too, a 5 megapixel. Maybe I could take some halfway decent photos for my food blog with this thing.

As it turned out, I really enjoyed using the Focus as a photo device. For a low-end device, it took really good pictures, and after being forced to use it most of the week as my primary data device, I actually preferred its native camera app to the one on my Android 4.0-based Galaxy Nexus at home.

Right now, Windows Phone isn't exactly known as a true shutterbug's preferred smartphone platform -- that honor goes to Apple's iPhone. But what if Microsoft wanted to get serious about making Windows Phone a best of breed digital photography platform?

The Nokia Lumia 900, which went on sale last month to mostly positive reviews from the mainstream tech press, has a 8MP camera with Carl Zeiss optics. That's a good start, and puts it someplace on par with the iPhone 4S iSight camera, but I know Microsoft can do better.

Windows Phone shouldn't simply match the iPhone on camera specs. To distinguish itself, it really needs to out-do it. This may sound like a very tall order, but I know this is possible.

Nokia recently announced a Symbian-based phone for the European market with an incredible 41 megapixel camera, the 808 Pureview. To achieve this, it uses a technology called Pixel-binning which oversamples the image recorded on a 3x larger than normal 5MP CMOS sensor to produce extremely high-quality images.

While the Pureview technology is proprietary only to Nokia, this way of doing digital photography on smartphones is probably the way of the future.

We can also be assured that this technology is eventually going to appear on future Windows Phones, possibly as early as the first or second quarter of next year, when the "Apollo" based-phones are eventually released.

The companies that are likely to suffer from these advancements on smartphones are the old-school camera brands, such as Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus and even SONY. While their professional and prosumer markets are safe, their point-and-shoot business is going to evaporate very quickly.

Which makes them potentially excellent partners for Microsoft to work with, as combined they have a tremendous amount of expertise in producing high-quality optics and also many years of experience in digital still and video camera design.

While Nokia certainly has a lead in smartphone camera technology, the company and Microsoft can't afford to be complacent. Apple isn't going to sit still.

What I believe Microsoft should do is put together a Windows Phone smartphone photography consortium of the traditional camera vendors and partner with them and the OEM handset licensees (such as Samsung and HTC) to produce best of breed mobile devices with leading-edge photographic and video capabilities using superior quality CMOS sensors and imaging processors (Such as Canon's DIGIC signal processing chips).

Canon and SONY in particular, both of which have a long history with making lenses and cameras for broadcast and professional video, could add significant ICAP to Microsoft's smartphone camera arsenal, should they be chosen as partners to help develop these new phones.

In addition to bringing the old guard camera companies into Windows Phone's fold, Microsoft needs to work closely with Facebook to get Instagram built into the next version of Windows Phone, and should also work with companies such as Adobe in order to code native WinRT photography and sophisticated mobile photo editing apps for Windows Phone 8, which should also come built into the devices.

While photography isn't the only make or break technology for Windows Phone, having an advantage over the other platforms in this space could very well seal the deal for consumers looking for a shutterbug's paradise.

Do you think Windows Phone could make a superior digital photography platform to iOS and Android? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Mobility, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Telcos, Windows


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • N95

    I bought a Nokia N95 smartphone in the Spring of 2007.
    Now have a Samsung Galaxy I (pales in comparison).

    The N95 has 5Mp Carl-Zeiss optics and takes superb pictures.
    DTS - Your Linux Advocate
    • If Nokia has great cameras

      Do you see this helping the Windows Phone platform in the long run?
      Michael Alan Goff
      • That's a fair question.

        I, naturally, would have hoped for expanded production of the N9 with MeeGo.

        Of course, the engineering can be assumed to be good. That has always been the prime differentiator for the Nokia brand.

        But marketing dynamics will dictate what happens insofar as Nokia with WP7.

        Samsung and Intel both have put their support behind Tizen, a fork of MeeGo, which is in its 1.0 release. One wonders what their intentions are--is it a 'plan b' should Google go 'bat $hit' with Android? Every smartphone company needs a 'plan b' should things go terribly wrong.

        I wonder if Nokia (independent of the Microsoft 'joint venture') have a 'plan b' should WP7 phone sales tank?...........
        DTS - Your Linux Advocate
      • Plan B

        I don't actually think Nokia has a plan B for if, and it is definitely possible, that WP7 sales are less than stellar. Personally, I really want Windows Phone to be a success.

        I know that you have an n95, and you love it, but what are your prospects now that MeeGo has met an unfortunate demise? Have you thought about, maybe, trying to get your hands on the n9 and trying to find a way to get Tizen on it?
        Michael Alan Goff
  • Totally Agree!!!

    I have had this same thought for some time now but from the prospective of what companies like Kodak should do to stay alive! I'm a little surprised that this hasn't happened yet! It would be brilliant if MS took your advice on this one!
    • What killed Kodak was the Quicktime formatted video

      Terrible choice that alienated a lot of Windows users on corporate networks because they couldn't install iTunes and Quicktime was bundled by Apple. So you might be right in that respect. But what's good for Kodak probably won't help MS at all.
      • Not to dissagree but ...

        iTunes is not "bundled" with Quicktime. The "bundle" is BACKWARDS. Quicktime is bundled with iTunes. You can install download Quicktime without iTunes.
  • I've not seen any advantage over my 8MP Bionic

    Camera features on a 5MP smart phone are not going to make or break Windows. It will have to make it based on other merits more applicable to what consumers need in a phone. Right now there aren't too many of those.
    • Agree. Also, this is a strategy that can be copied.

      So what about having a superb camera experience couldn't be emulated by Android and iOS, if it were a raging success for MS? Does MS have some key patents in photography and digital imaging we're not aware of? They may have to acquire Canon and Nikon and Sony and Panasonic to pursue that strategy.

      The big two already have pretty great camera experiences with lots of apps, and of course iPhone has attachment lenses and all that. If people really keyed into better lens quality and maybe a zoom lens, why on earth wouldn't Apple and the Android armies be all over that in an instant?

      If Win phone is going to succeed, it'll need a strategy that can't just be instantly copied by the other guys. What that could possibly be, well, figure that out and I'm sure MS would pay you a mint.
    • Average

      Where I'm from people just want to txt, phone and take pics. (Maybe a bit of fb for the girls). If you can have a very smooth slick way of doing those things great a lot of people would flock to it (If you can advertise it as a classy phone). Nokia still has HUGE mindshare here (they deserve, their phones ROCK).
    • There's one main advantage to Wp7 photography

      That also encourages you to use it more often.

      The camera button and the fact that it fires up while the phone is off. No start up, no finding the app, just press the button to start and press it again to shoot.
      • Yes...

        it was always nice in Windows Mobile too....
        In fact we had Camera, Record, Menu, Internet, Call, Hangup, directional pad, etc.

        They didn't interfere with using the device, they enhanced it. Now we have - the BIG button and 'another' one. Advancement? - Meh!
    • Out of the box WP7

      ... is the best of a bad bunch. There is no question. It boots quickly, it is intuitive, it looks different, it presents useful information from the main screen, it is fluid in operation, it is stable and it has most useful features built in from the get-go. We've been getting Nokia Lumias in at my work and honestly, they are a joy to use. The iPhone interface is a bad joke in comparison.

      The problem for me is, that while I would be happy to own one, ultimately it requires Zune and is a closed platform, which is why I go with Android. Android is as flaky as any OS I've ever used, crashes constantly, has terrible memory issues, etc, but at the end of the day, it is open. It let's me do what I want when I want and doesn't rely on stupid desktop software to 'allow' me to do something as simple as transferring a picture.
      • Zune Is Not So Bad

        I was annoyed when I first learned that Windows Phones would require Zune, but bought one anyway. Everything you say in your first paragraph is true (and nothing you say in the second is false either). Using the Zune software really isn't so bad, though. I wouldn't be able to stand needing iTunes for an iPhone, but Zune doesn't bother me. Over time, it has become my preferred music software. Also, you could use Skydrive/Dropbox/Email to transfer that picture. I don't like being forced to use Zune, but it really does not hurt the experience much.
        Patrick Aupperle
    • Then you haven't seen the pictures

      If you have seen the pictures, you would see the advantage. Do a search for pureview. Take a look at the pictures, and try to tell me your 8MP Bionic can hold a candle. The jury is still out on WP7 and Nokia, but one thing is for certain: the pictures taken using Nokia's PureView are far and away better than what you could get with any other phone on the market.
  • I disagree...

    First, the HTC Resound, One X, Galaxy Note, and iPhone 4s all take excellent pictures...

    2nd, the iPhone has attachments to use with real lenses.

    What the Windows Phones and Nokia need are dual core phones with cameras on par with the 4 mentioned above.

    Why do I say this? Because most people agree the OS is not the problem so, why then are the majority of people jumping on Android and the second most on iOS? Because the phones have something the Windows Phones do not.

    Think about it...

    Nokia Lumia 900 the flagship phone has these specs.

    800x480 Display Even the 3 year old iPhone 4 is higher.
    720P video recording all other flagships have 1080P.
    Single Core 1+ GHz CPU all other flagships are at least dual core.
    512 Meg RAM only the 4s has this little ram.
    16 Megs internal Storage and no expansion.

    I know a lot of people don't believe this is an issue but salesmen use these as a point of reference to sell these phones.
    • Forget Dual Core

      Most people have no clue what it means, and those who have a Lumia don't miss it, either. Specs are way overrated.
    • Specs aren't all important

      If the experience can be had on fewer resources, who cares what the specs are? Is a dual-core Android phone mystically better because of the second core?

      I guess, given that argument, the Asus Tranformer Prime Infinity beats the new iPad hands down. It has 12 graphics cores and 4 processors instead of 4 when it comes to graphics and 2 for processors.

      What do the other two have that Microsoft doesn't? Android wouldn't have gone anywhere without Verizon jump-starting it back in the day. The iPhone had the good will from the iPod Touch days. IT might sound strange, but it is true.
      Michael Alan Goff
    • Specs mean nothing ...

      ... when the OS running on the hardware is sluggish by design.

      Also, megapixels means nothing when the quality of the image sucks due to many other factors. I had an old 2MP Olympus camera that tool a hell of a lot better pictures than the 8MP my brother got. (to bad my sis-in-law decided that it was OK to give my camera to his kid and he drop it from the 2nd floor).
      • Specs should mean nothing

        @All saying specs mean nothing:

        Although I agree that nobody should care about the listed specs as Windows Phone does run better on these specs than Android on any, they do mean something. If the average person walks into a store to look at phones, they have no idea what they are looking at. They ask a sales rep who tells them some run Android, some WP7, and one iOS. This means very little to average consumers. They then hear these two have fast dual core processors (which is usually quickly claimed to be twice as good as one, or at least explained as the equivalent of having two processors). They are then thrown ram and persistent storage numbers and told higher is better. Consumer sees same price (or close prices) on most phones, and picks the one that seems best. If OS means nothing to this person, Specs or what there friends say wins. If they get no advice from friends, they go with the fastest (in proc speed or ram size) phone.
        Patrick Aupperle