Why Apple Won't Fight Nokia's iPhone-Killing Technology
Late last month, Nokia announced a revolutionary new camera phone that features the world's first 41MP sensor. Now it's officially coming to Windows Phone 7.
While this is a no-brainer announcement that was all but guaranteed to happen, by making it official (the PureView camera will be added to Nokia's Lumia line of smartphones, TechCrunch reports), Nokia (NYSE: NOK) has solidified its future as a strong competitor in the smartphone industry.
For those of you who haven't read up on Nokia's groundbreaking technology, the company has produced the first and only camera that will allow you to zoom three times digitally without losing any image quality. That's why the PureView requires a 41 megapixel sensor – to allow the user to zoom without incurring any of the unnecessary side effects (such as blurry or pixelated images). Up until now, camera manufacturers could only get around this by building lenses with optical zoom, a feature that physically extends the lens to zoom in on the subject. But those lenses are big and bulky, which is why you don't see them used in smartphones. With the PureView lens, Nokia has found the best of both worlds.
That might be an understatement, actually. For the past year, I've been quick to dismiss Nokia as a helpless has-been that was destined to fail. I mercilessly mocked the idea that Nokia would merge with one of the world's largest tech companies, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). The mere thought of it seemed absurd. Did the Windows maker need any help in developing a phone that can't compete with Apple, I wondered? “No!” was the obvious answer. “Microsoft can accomplish that all on its own.”
And it has. To this day, the Windows Phone platform is barely a competitor to the iOS and Android dominance. But Nokia's phone could change everything.
Right now, more people take pictures with their smartphones than any other device – including standalone cameras. The improved image quality has no doubt been a factor, but nothing compares to the convenience factor. When Bob Consumer wants to take a few photos of his kids, it's a lot faster for him to whip out his iPhone and snap a few images than it would be for him to fumble through his pockets in search of a separate device. This gives smartphone makers the advantage in the battle for camera sales. Now that advantage has shifted to Nokia.
The road ahead will not be an easy one. But if Nokia can promote its camera with enough panache (this site is a great start), consumers will quickly take notice. It will be interesting to see the TV ad campaign that Nokia produces, as it could make or break the sales of its PureView devices.
If Nokia's 41MP sensor proves to be a smash hit, you might expect other companies to follow suit with a similar line of smartphones. And if you're looking to Samsung or HTC for these clones, then chances are you won't be disappointed. HTC is the king of copycats. For its part, Samsung is determined to leave no market untapped. Sony (NYSE: SNE) may also be tempted to enter the fray, but only if its smartphone business can survive its inevitable demise.
Regardless of who copies who, don't expect Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) to do the same. The Mac maker might have made billions selling a smartphone that many users bought because of its photographic capabilities. (Next to Siri, the camera seems to be the primary reason people bought the iPhone 4S.) But that won't inspire Apple to copy Nokia's technology.
For one thing, it's not in Apple's nature to copy another company unless it believes that it can make a better product – or, at the very least, convince the buying public that it has produced something better. That would be a lot of work for the tech giant. Apple would be better off investing its time and money into other areas of R&D.
Second, the new Nokia lens is somewhat bulky. While it might be possible to shrink it down, it may still be too big – and too unattractive – for Apple's dedication to producing sleek and stylish products. This alone will keep Apple from caring about the technology.
Third, Apple is in a place where it doesn't have to worry about what Nokia is doing. Apple barely seems to care about the phones that Samsung – its leading competitor – releases each year. So why would it ever think about Nokia?
If Nokia plays its cards right, there might come a day when the company is powerful enough to make Apple take notice. Until then, we should be glad that Nokia's fierce competition forced it to innovate and release a product that no one saw coming.
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