"The next HTC flagship might bring dual camera sensors, but will that really be enough?"
Mobile phones (especially smart ones) have often been referred to as Swiss Army knives, and not without good reason. Just take a look at the number of dedicated gadgets smartphones have managed to replace – portable music players, digital organisers, alarm clocks, internet surfing gadgets, GPS navigators, and cameras. Each one of these capabilities have been used by cellphone manufacturers in the past to differentiate their offerings and sway potential buyers, but if there's one aspect that stands out as the most commonly-used (or abused) feature to create hype, it has to be the camera. There's a lot of truth in Chase Jarvis' quote "the best camera is the one that's with you", and ever since mobile phones added cameras in their spec sheets, many have considered dedicated digital cameras, at least the compact ones, to be living on borrowed time.
Mobile phone cameras have evolved substantially over time, and one doesn't need to be an analyst to realise that they've impacted sales of dedicated point-and-shoot cameras quite a bit. The mobile phone camera timeline is dotted with many a milestone. The Sony Ericsson K750 with its true autofocus and the K800 with its Xenon flash, the Nokia N93 which was the first mainstream phone boasting of optical zoom, the Nokia N95 with its 5-meg sensor, the Samsung INNOV8 that was the first 8MP camera phone, 3D camera phones from LG and HTC, and Nokia's N8 with its superb 12-megapixel shooter are a few that come to mind.
While the phone camera wars saw a vast majority of devices using a higher number of megapixels as their main weapon, there was a fair degree of innovation too. Back in 2012, Nokia stunned the world with the 41-megapixel sensor on the 808 PureView, but the sensor was only one side of the story. The innovative way in which it used pixel oversampling to deliver the best imaging results possible on a phone was the other. The Windows Phone-powered Nokia Lumia 1020 now carries the same legacy forward, and despite being almost a year old, still remains the one to beat.
HTC chose to buck the trend with the UltraPixel camera on its last year's flagship, the One (not to be confused with Neo from the Matrix Trilogy), choosing to go with fewer megapixels but focussing on larger pixel size instead. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom was yet another notable milestone with its 10x optical zoom. More recently, we've seen the likes of the Sony Xperia Z1 (20-megapixel sensor), the Oppo N1 (the first with a swivel camera), and the Gionee Elife E7 harp about their unique shooting capabilities.
Suffice to say, that the camera has really been one of the most hyped about features for many handsets, and the trend could continue unabated for the foreseeable future. The latest on our radar is the weirdly-named 'The All New HTC One' that aims to shake smartphone photography by offering dual sensors. These will reportedly allow for better depth-of-field, better low-light shooting, HDR and refocus capabilities, and possibly, boast 3D prowess as well. These are all exciting possibilities, and without manufacturer initiatives (not to mention their R&D dollars), would never see the light of day.
Needless to say, it'll be the end user that stands to benefit in the long run, ideally spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a daily driver that also promises to capture special moments at the drop of a hat, and do a great job of it. However, phone makers also need to understand that for a mobile device to be universally appealing, the shooter is just one of the aspects that should be compelling. We're not belittling the efforts that go into making innovative smartphone snappers – Nokia's PureView tech reportedly took five years of research before it was unveiled. The importance of a great camera in a phone could vary depending upon individual requirements, but all we're saying is that devices that are all-rounders would tend to be better accepted by users. Take the unassuming Moto G for example, or devices like the Apple iPhone 4 (and later), the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and the LG G2 – they've all offered versatile shooters but have also excelled in other departments like performance, usability, app ecosystem and battery life. And therein lies the key to making a great phone. As far as the camera is concerned, we'll shoot with whatever we have in our pockets. Just keep 'em coming.