It’s often lost in users how amazing it is that their smartphones are much more powerful than the computer that accompanied humans in their journey to the Moon. Those computers were a lot more purposeful, just to set it straight, but mid-range phones today blow them out of the water when it comes to processing and computing power. That’s how far we’ve come, shrinking a device so powerful that it could assist the launch of tens of rockets in the 60s into our pockets. We’re just so lost in the pursuit of what’s more powerful that we don’t end up appreciating what we have now.
No other part of any smartphone is more scrutinized than its camera. In terms of flagships, the cameras are why we’re paying an exorbitant premium for these devices. At least in the camera department, manufacturers are right to boast that their most expensive phones have the best cameras. That enough creates lines during launches, and if reviews are anything to go by, it’s that these devices are useful beyond how we’re currently using them.
Why, then, are we so intent on getting better every year? Especially with the camera, when every year manufacturers of top-tier smartphones make a lot of fuss how better their cameras are compared to last year’s model. There’s only one answer to that, and that’s because we really want our phone’s camera to be as high-fidelity as a DSLR.
It’s probably the most futile pursuit in technology today.
Smartphones Are Amazing As They Are
It’s doubtful if an iPhone XS is really worth north of a thousand dollars, but it’s undeniable how amazing this device is. The same goes for the Samsung Note 9, LG V40 Thinq and other flagship phones. There’s even more reason to be amazed at value-busting options like the OnePlus 6T, Nokia 7.1, Honor 10, and Asus Zenfone 5. These devices are in the “flagship killer” sector because they bring top-tier performance at less than half of these flashy flagships.
But all of these smartphones, despite their difference in specs and prices, are all amazing. They aggregate technology that makes our lives much easier. They allow us to communicate in every form we choose. They make work easier to manage. They allow us to create a visual diary of our lives, whether by pictures, social media, and general use. We’ve actually come to a point where there’s really not much difference between flagships and mid-range phones, unless you really look for the gap. As a user of the OnePlus 6, iPhone 7, Samsung S8, and Nokia 7.1, I can definitely say that all these phones have sufficient horsepower to run every app without a hitch. This is why I also support the growth of mid-range phones because try as they do, it’s becoming harder for flagships to justify their value.
Nonetheless, we’re all so lucky that mobile technology developed this well and this far. We should really be refining smartphones to a point where manufacturers will be able to sell them as cheap as possible, and bring these life-improving technologies to everyone. The same goes for the smartphone cameras we love so much.
DSLR-Level, Not DSLR, and That’s Fine
This year alone, Huawei released the P20 Pro and the Mate 20 Pro. Both these phones have cameras that took picture-taking in smartphones a whole new level. This year still, Samsung released the Note 9 and the only negative about it is the camera algorithm seems to overprocess the images. Again this year, Apple released the iPhone XS Max and as always, Apple’s phone is a crowd favorite. The renders are accurate, colors are punchy, and there’s not much for a user to do but to point and click.
Any of these phone are only as good as each other. As a user of multiple phones, I concur. But there has to be an endgame for smartphone cameras because they’re better than we expected them to be. Do we need them to replace our DSLRs? No, but their results are so high-fidelity that it’s becoming hard to differentiate a smartphone-taken camera and a DSLR-captured one. Even to those with a trained eye for photographs, smartphone cameras are beyond impressive now.
We’ll most probably still try to improve smartphone cameras, and if history can tell us something, we will get there. But at what price? Smartphones prices are so inflated right now that it’s ridiculous. Further unnecessary developments will only blow empty air where it doesn’t belong. In two years’ time, we may be looking at $3,000 phones. That should be the end of it.
Where Should We Focus?
There really be more attention to bringing technology to a wider audience. Whether it’s the camera, battery, memory allocation or a biometric sensor, manufacturers should be working toward adapting advancements to a price-tier that more people can reach. All this focus on cramming everything on flagships inflate their value and, as a result, inflates the value of smartphones in general. Back when OnePlus was still priced as an actual “flagship killer,” it was a great victory for everyone. Manufacturers can do it, release a phone that performs like the best without having the steep price tag.
As for the camera, Samsung and Huawei released phones that has four camera lenses. Seems that these companies weren’t in a “less is more” mood in making those phones. It also didn’t look good, which is a big minus for phones today. If the Samsung S8 only had one camera lens and was able to capture great images, and that two is becoming standard now, manufacturers should be working to improve enough on those standards. If we just continue on this path, who’s to say that manufacturers will stop at four sensors? How about six, adding two more sensors that will capture detail previously unseen from a smartphone? How about a back that’s half camera, half surface?
This is why we should know when to stop demanding more. This reductive approach already led to phones small enough for most human hands, and powerful enough to run heavy apps. We should be implementing developments that aren’t just an incremental improvement over the last generation.
Everyone feels great about where technology is taking us, but we should be wary. Let’s ask not if we can, but if we should. Smartphones are good enough for most people who can afford smartphones. Let’s try to bring those features to people who need it more. It’s not going to make a utopian world, but it goes a long way to providing more for less to more people.