The death of point-and-shoot cameras

If you’re a camera manufacturer that relies on point-and-shoots to stay afloat, you should be worried as hell. Why? Because itty-bitty, ridiculously easy-to-use cameras are making their way into nearly everything — and they’re making your bread and butter irrelevant.

Just yesterday the rumor mill suggested the pint-size iPod nano will soon pack a camera. You know, in case you want to take a picture of that cute girl (or guy) you saw while you were out for a jog. Will it be able to pick out lunar footprints from your backyard? Probably not, but neither can your average point-and-shoot.

That’s not to say on-board cameras stack up against the best point-and-shoots. They don’t, but the average consumer doesn’t care. He’s more concerned with portability and versatility than he is with having the best equipment. And that’s why standalone cameras are in such dire straits. Consumers would rather tote an intuitive, all-in-one device than they would several, even if those separate devices are slightly better at their jobs.

If you don’t believe me, reach for the nearest cell phone. If it was made in the past few years, odds are it’s got a decent camera, because consumers demanded it. Now count how many people you see strolling around with cameras slung from their necks. Give up? You’re forgiven. They’re a rare breed these days, even at tourist destinations.

Put simply, the days of casual cameras as separate devices are coming to an end, and Canon and Sony can both attest to that. Each recently reported a decline in camera sales, especially point-and-shoots. And it’s only the beginning.

I’m sure I’ll catch a lot of flak for that prediction, but it wouldn’t be the first time. People called me crazy when I predicted the end of console gaming, too. But the same forces are at work here, and they’re no less devastating to cameras. Portability and convenience will be the death of point-and-shoots, just as they’re responsible for the bare-bones Macbook Air cannibalizing Macbook Pro sales. Mark my words.

And we can expect the pace to quicken as smartphones sport increasingly advanced optics. Macworld offered a glimpse of that next-gen hardware, with accessories like the Olloclip and the iPro lens on display, the latter of which adds additional lenses to an iPhone. And boy did it take it to the next level.

But I don’t expect people to nod their heads in agreement, nor do I think companies like Canon will suddenly wake up and acknowledge the revolution raging around them. Like RIM, Palm, and Microsoft before them, all of whom long denied that the iPhone’s touchscreen model would catch on, they’ll likely linger in their bubble of denial. But if they don’t get with it soon, if they don’t adapt and focus on making cameras for smaller devices –– something Sony has done by providing the lens and optics for the iPhone 4S –– they might not have Microsoft’s luxury of another shot.

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