On The Possibility Of An Apple Standalone Camera

A few days ago, I mentioned that we’d heard claims—initially quite firm, and then not so firm—that Apple is working on a standalone digital camera, specifically a point-and-shoot model designed to deliver image quality and zoom functionality beyond what iPhones, iPads, and iPods can deliver in their thinning bodies.

Specifically, the claims from our source were as follows:

(a) Apple has been glad that the media and analysts are so focused on iTV, as it was able to work quietly on the camera.

(b) Just as with the iPhone, Apple wants to give users a powerful tool that can be used to produce awesome results without needing to understand technical details, jargon, or legacy controls.

(c) The idea of selling excellent little cameras as an accessory to go along with other Apple devices fits with Apple’s business model, and is a lot easier to stock in Apple Stores than huge television sets.

(d) The product is planned for after the release of the iTV, and would leverage iCloud for storage.

Our editors debated and researched the claims, noting a few interesting things along the way:

(1) We noted that Apple had many camera-related job openings posted, including a reference to cameras that were to be built into “standalone peripherals,” as distinguished from “laptops,” “desktops,” and “handhelds.” (See http://jobs.apple.com/index.ajs?BID=1&method=mExternal.showJob&RID=82844&CurrentPage=4)

(2) We found that Apple had re-trademarked iSight in April 2012, notably expanding beyond the prior iSight trademark’s reliance on “Computer hardware, namely, a camera requiring use of a personal computer for taking still and moving pictures” (see http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4002:jmubnt.2.4) to “Cameras; still and video cameras incorporated in computers and handheld mobile digital electronic devices” (see http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4002:jmubnt.2.1).

(3) We recalled that two books on the late Steve Jobs and Apple (Isaacson, Lashinsky) confirmed not only that Jobs named photography as one of three industries he had wanted to transform (behind textbooks and television), but also met with Lytro regarding an acquisition before his death. The textbook and television initiatives are already underway.

(4) We discussed the plausibility of a standalone camera in light of the iPhone’s tremendous success as a compromise camera, as measured by its popularity on Twitter, and Apple’s general trend towards convergence. The key reasons such a device made sense were that Apple employs serious photo and video lovers, traditionally creates products its employees want (rather than asking focus groups), and could go after a market for digital photography that’s worth $68-Billion annually. Add to that Jobs’ known enthusiasm for the subject, and there was every reason to believe it would be a priority for Apple. Why not do it? The answers largely came down to “why bother given the iPhone” and “they’re pretty busy already.”

Is it going to happen? For a variety of reasons—including our not well-established source softening his certainty on the specifics after we did the requisite probing—we are not going to say “yes.” It’s speculation at this point. But we made the case for how it could and likely would happen on pages 152-153 of The New iPad Buyers’ Guide. This isn’t gospel and sure isn’t something we’d put money on right now, but since it’s something we’re tracking, we wanted you to be aware of it, too.

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