The PlayMemories feature of the latest NEX cameras (NEX-5R, NEX-6) is a potentially useful addition and, done right, would have the ability to unlock the "programmability" I have been writing about as necessary to disrupt the camera market.
Unfortunately, we once again have an example—at least so far—of how the Japanese don't get "ecosystems." The first four PlayMemories apps, all written by Sony, have been announced, and they're as underwhelming as you might expect and I suggested when Sony announced the feature. We have:
- Direct Upload (free)—Direct upload of images via WiFi to "network services." Of course, the only example of a network service given is Sony's PlayMemories Online. How it works with other services (e.g. Flickr, et.al.) is unknown and unspecified ("depending upon the network services, the screen display and function will vary," though there are no examples given in the instructions). The problem I see with the way all the Japanese companies are approaching dealing with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and all the other possible places you'd want to upload images to is that these services change, a lot. And we now have a Japanese-centric software company trying to keep up with all those changes. It's far easier to just reveal the API and let the services create their own apps (though this requires evangelism and developer support, concepts that the Japanese companies haven't quite figured out).
- Smart Remote Control (free)—coupled with a free Android or iOS app, this lets you use your smartphone (or tablet) as a remote control for the camera. This isn't quite as direct and simple as you might expect, as it uses WiFi to make the connection to the camera. That has battery implications at both ends, too. The image from the camera can be seen on the smartphone to compose before shooting, but the settings you can change on the camera from the smartphone are highly limited (self timer, exposure compensation). This application seems incomplete, at best.
- Picture Effect+ (free)—Another of those post-process apps, in this case adding Partial Color, Soft High Key, Miniature, Toy Camera, Watercolor, and Illustration. Nothing new here, move on.
- Multi Frame NR (US$5)—The first app that will cost you money (what I referred to when I asked earlier if you were willing to pay for features), this app does something a few Sony cameras used to have built-in for free. Basically the camera takes a quick succession of images, stacks them, and then runs a layering effect to take out the randomized noise. Certainly a useful feature for some situations, but why is it free in some cameras but now US$5 for others?
There's really nothing new here so far. All of these things have been in other cameras previously. Sony does not appear to be allowing others to do any app development for the cameras. So, in essence, we have Sony moving existing features into optional apps. I'm not exactly against that, especially if they'd just take all the features out of the camera and let us configure just what we want and use. But it's also not a big deal (other than charging money for features).
Contrast that with the option: take the full internal API for the cameras, proselytize it to independent developers, encourage app distribution through a relatively open store, and make sure to find some folk with imaginations that take camera programming where it hasn't been.
Unfortunately, the NIH (not invented here) attitude is highly prevalent. Apps are apparently a playground only Sony camera engineers can play on, and they haven't yet shown that they're interested in playing any game other than the existing ones.
Interesting idea, terrible execution.