Windows Phone: Photography the key to its success?

To distinguish itself from Apple's iOS and Google's Android, Microsoft's smartphone platform needs to be a shutterbug's paradise.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

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 broadcastand 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.

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