App cameras from Nikon and Sony have very different approaches
It's been the biggest week ever for standalone cameras that run apps. In fact, it's been the only week ever for standalone cameras that run apps.
Last week, Nikon announced the Coolpix S800C, a Wi-Fi-enabled pocket camera that runs Android 2.3 and all the apps that go with it: Instagram, Dropbox, AfterFocus, and even games. Today, Sony announced its latest interchangeable-lens camera, the Alpha NEX-5R, which offers Wi-Fi capabilities and its own proprietary app platform. Both devices let you download apps over a Wi-Fi connection and run them on the camera.
The ability to run apps isn't the only thing these two cameras have in common with smartphones. If you just can't get enough of the Android vs. iOS battle, you'll be happy to know that a similar platform tête-à-tête is brewing between these two devices.
Nikon's app platform is Android. That means more apps will be available right out of the box (including phone-photography mainstays such as Instagram and Camera360), non-photography apps will be able to run on the camera, and third-party Android developers will be able to build Coolpix S800C-specific apps.
Sony's app platform is more like the "walled garden" approach employed by Apple with iOS. Actually, this garden is even more walled-off than Apple's curated third-party app approach, as Sony says there are no plans to support apps built by independent developers. Sony's camera-app offerings will consist solely of Sony-built apps distributed via the Sony Entertainment Network, which means app selections will be a lot more limited, but also a lot more photocentric.
Based on the first apps available for the NEX-5R, Sony's apps will be focused on bringing additional functions and modes to the NEX-5R's core feature set, such as additional picture effects, a "Bracket Pro" suite that includes aperture- and focus-bracketing modes, and an app that lets you use a smartphone as a remote control for the camera. Most of these apps will be free, but Sony will also charge a fee for some of them.
Beyond the apps and the app platforms, these are radically different cameras at their core. Nikon's first app-enabled camera is basically a 10X-zoom Android phone minus the phone. Sony's first app camera is a higher-end interchangeable-lens camera that allows users to expand its functionality over time.
The Nikon Coolpix S800C is a pocketable point-and-shoot with a 10X-optical-zoom lens; it's geared specifically toward casual shooters who want a pocket camera with smartphone-like sharing skills and image-editing apps. The Sony Alpha NEX-5R, on the other hand, has DSLR-like image quality and controls; it's for photographers who want a portable alternative to a DSLR with the added benefit of wireless-sharing capabilities and à la carte extra features.
Innovative as they are, these two models aren't exactly gamechangers in terms of deciding which camera to buy; in other words, you should still pick a camera that fits your shooting needs rather than what apps it can run. But if this trend takes off, it's nice to know that once you select your core hardware, you'll be able to pick and choose your camera's software features.