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Price hinders Wi-Fi camera takeup

While digital cameras with wireless capabilities are gaining traction, consumers are unlikely to pay more for these as they prioritize other features such as camera compactness and optical zoom.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

Cameras with Wi-Fi capabilities offer the convenience of uploading photos online, but consumers are unlikely to pay extra for these cameras as they see "diminishing returns" from certain features. Wi-Fi also will not be the key selling point of cameras but merely provide another way to compete with smartphones.

The increased adoption of mobile devices has changed consumer behavior, with more users now uploading pictures and content directly to cloud services from their devices, observed Michael Inuoye, senior analyst at ABI Research.

Camera makers then feel "compelled" to add Wi-Fi capabilities to their camera as a selling point, he said noting that currently, Samsung, Sony, Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, and Panasonic all offer digital cameras with Wi-Fi capabilities.

"Many consumers are satisfied with 'good enough' and don't place a great deal of value on incremental performance improvements and gains. In other words, few consumers are willing to pay for [features with] diminishing returns." -Michael Inuoye, senior analyst at ABI Research

However, while Wi-Fi and other connected features such as apps can help cameras better compete against smartphones, it is an "uphill" battle, Inuoye remarked. Consumers tend to be price-sensitive with point-and-shoot cameras, he explained.

Elaborating, he noted that when a consumer considers camera improvements in mobile devices against the limited upgrade opportunities from megapixels, this exacerbates the difficulties faced by camera companies.

"Many consumers are satisfied with 'good enough' and don't place a great deal of value on incremental performance improvements and gains. In other words, few consumers are willing to pay for [features with] diminishing returns," he said.

Mykola Golovko, senior consumer electronics analyst at Euromonitor, pointed out that there had been much buzz around, for example, the Eye-Fi mobile card, which was in development and initial release stages in 2008 to 2010. It enables users to create a wireless network of mobile devices, when

However, the eventual lack of wide consumer appeal came down to pricing because the Eye-Fi cards carry a price premium compared to non-Wi-Fi enabled products, and the average consumer sees limited value in the functionality they provide, Golovko said.

Singaporean Jake Chan told ZDNet he would only pay a small sum, no more than S$10, for a camera or card with wireless capabilities because "it [is] not worth it" to anything more for these products. "If I wanted to upload a picture to my Facebook, I would have taken it with my phone camera in the first place because it's more convenient," Chan said.

Not major selling point for cameras
Although the market will see an increasing number of Wi-Fi enabled cameras, especially in DSLRs and higher priced cameras, it will not be the defining feature of product design in the near future, Golovko remarked.

The range of the optical zoom is still the main differentiator, so Wi-Fi is simply the next step manufacturers will take to compete with mobile devices and they will be working to match better optics with connectivity features in mobile devices, he said.

Japanese consumer electronics giant, Sony, told ZDNet Asia it is focusing on delivering high picture quality and the performance of their digital cameras, as well as enhancing their compatibility with smartphones. Under its "PlayMemories" application series, consumers can view their personal content wirelessly across various devices. The Japanese vendor is also enhancing Wi-Fi-enabled cameras which allow sharing of photos and movies with smartphones, a Sony spokesperson revealed.

He said bigger sensors in smaller bodies, at more affordable prices, will be Sony's general direction toward camera design, and this will be the prevalent trend across point-and-shoot, DSLR, and microsystem cameras.

Golovko said: "For many camera manufacturers, the component supply market is as attractive as the consumer camera market. By devoting research dollars to sensor technology, they hope to gain an upper hand in both simultaneously."

Development slow, but perceived price disparity will fall
Moving forward, there will be rising number of cameras incorporating Wi-Fi, but the implementation is likely to remain slow, said the Euromonitor analyst. Manufacturers will be reluctant to compromise compactness of the camera body to accommodate Wi-Fi, he noted.

For Singapore-based consumer, Jeremy Lim, the compactness of the lens and images are main considerations when purchasing a digital camera. He these are "more important" than having the ability to upload his pictures on social media.

As more and more models support Wi-Fi, though, Inuoye noted this may help reduce the perceived pricing disparity. He explained that if a consumer visited a retail store and looked at the range of cameras, the higher priced Wi-Fi enabled camera would stand out as compared to others with the same features. "With more models, these devices are less prone to stand out as higher priced outliers," he added.

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