When Nikon President Makoto Kimura says his company wants to make “non-camera consumer products,” it’s not tough to imagine what he’s talking about.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Kimura said that Nikon is looking beyond the camera as the rise of smartphone photography continues to eat at his company’s revenue. Sales of traditional cameras have been continuously shrinking over the past few years — a reality that isn’t lost on Nikon or its main competitor, Canon.
“Rapid expansion of mobile devices is a change in business environment given to us. Our task going forward is to find an answer to that change,” Kimura told Bloomberg.
That sounds a whole lot like “were going to make smartphones” to me.
The problem for Nikon and Canon right now is that while their camera technology far outpaces that of the average smartphone, sensor size and megapixel count have become secondary to the basic convenience of the smartphone. Not only are smartphones more convenient to carry around than the average SLR or even point-and-shoot, but their photo quality has finally gotten good enough that most people don’t even miss having a more powerful camera around. (This isn’t even a matter of price, either. Compact point-and-shoots like the Nikon S3300 run for roughly $99, which still isn’t low enough to get people interested.)
So what would Nikon’s post-camera consumer product look like? Probably something like its own Coolpix S800c, an Android-based camera hybrid that was burned by its slow performance and uninspiring photo quality.
Another, less likely option is that Nikon will pull a Carl Zeiss and team up with a smartphone maker that’s looking to bring more advanced (and branded) camera tech to its devices.
Nikon aims to release its non-camera devices in less than five years — though I wonder if the move will come too late for the company as smartphone makers like Samsung make more strides with their own camera hybrids like the Galaxy Camera and Galaxy NX.
The same goes for Nokia, which is bringing high-quality photography to its phones as a central selling point. Powerful camera technology has become an increasingly key part of smartphones, and if Nikon doesn’t act fast, it’s going to be completely left behind.