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Cameras Becoming Ubiquitous

There are two main reasons for using separate gadgets: quality and dependability.

When I interviewed Intel’s Andy Grove a few years ago, he watched me set up my Sony stereo cassette and said: “Most of the people who interview me use two tape recorders.” Obviously, most journalists are petrified by the prospect of going back to the office and asking the editor if he has anything else to fill a couple of pages because the tape recorder didn’t work.

I used, and still own, two Sony TCS-470 cassette recorders and a WM-D6C which, apart from lacking conveniences such as a microphone and a loudspeaker, remains one of the greatest gadgets ever invented. It was the system of choice for recording bootleg albums, though many were recorded on TCS-470s. Today, I use an Edirol R-09HR, which is smaller and records at twice CD quality. The point is that any bits or pixels that you don’t capture at the time, you can never get back later.

"You cannot escape Mr Bond, for I have a camera phone!"

Yes, you can photograph and record your hero with a mobile phone, but not with the quality or reliability that you get with an Edirol or a Nikon or Canon DSLR.

Indeed, many gadgets now seem to come in four different classes, which are like the layers in a pyramid. At the top are the products used by professionals, such as Hasselblad and Nikon camera outfits priced at £5,000 to £50,000. Next come “prosumer” models that are much like the ones pros use, but cheaper: typically around £500-£1,000. The large third layer comprises mass market compact cameras, with prices starting at around £50. The huge base of the pyramid is where you now find camera phones.

A camera phone is the camera you use if you’re not serious about photography, or you left your proper camera at home.

I’m now wondering if cameras will become ubiquitous, in the same way as clocks. As mentioned, I’m already carrying four, and I could make it five with an HD video camcorder. It’s also reasonable to expect digital cameras to be added to handheld games consoles, portable media tablets, and maybe even watches. Why not?

If you remember, there were centuries when nobody owned a watch or a clock. If you wanted to know the time, you checked the church or town hall clock, perhaps by listening for the bells or chimes. As clocks became smaller and cheaper we got new varieties like ships’ chronometers, and every home aspiring to a grandfather clock in the hall. On your retirement, you might be presented with a fob watch for your waistcoat pocket.

Clocks used to be a rare and expensive technology. Now they are ubiquitous and free. If you want to tell the time, you can look at your Rolex, but you can get exactly the same time from your mobile phone, MP3 player, digital camera, computer, TV set, VCR/PVR, alarm clock radio, microwave, cooker, central heating controller, and other things besides.

We are now going the same way with cameras, because it would be handy if our gadgets recognised us. The process has already started with cash machines (ATMs), front doors and lifts (CCTV), for security reasons. As F1 TV coverage demonstrates, multiple cameras must now be added to all cars so that accidents can be recorded. And so on.

In 2020, perhaps I’ll be able to stand in front of my camera-packed face-recognition fridge and hear it say: “Hello, Jack, we have pork pies on shelf three. Have a nice day.”

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