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Can Apps save the point-and-shoot?

Smartphones are definitely slowing compact camera sales, but it's not because they take great photos--it's all in the apps.

The Casio Tryx might be the first step to having a camera that runs apps. Casio

My first thought when I saw the Casio Tryx camera announced at CES 2011 was that Casio took a smartphone and turned into a single-function device. It has the dimensions of a smartphone, has a 3-inch touch screen, and a fixed focal length lens similar to what's on a phone (though with better specs and quality). Take away the swiveling and rotating screen and lens design and you essentially have the body of a smartphone.

On top of that, one of the Tryx's key shooting features is high dynamic range (HDR) photos. HDR photography isn't new, but the use of it in the iPhone 4 certainly broadened awareness (for better or worse). If you're unfamiliar with it, basically, the camera takes several photos at different exposures and then combines them to bring out details that would otherwise be lost in the highlights and shadows of a scene or for artistic effect by adjusting the strength of contrast throughout a photo. In other words, this camera does what apps like TrueHDR and Pro HDR do for iPhone users.

If ultracompact cameras, such as the Tryx, are already looking like smartphones and using photography techniques now available to smartphone users, why not just go all the way and make it so they can use other apps? Current camera systems are ridiculously closed off, so people can't just start developing apps for them (though you can at least hack Canon's to do more stuff). And camera manufacturers can't be left to develop their own software because, well, the software would suck because they're camera makers not software developers. Right now the manufacturers' solution is to add in special scene modes or give users creative art filters. However, neither option matches the fun or the flexibility of most photography apps. Add in instructional and editing and other utility apps and you can start to see why people are giving up on their simple pocket cameras.

I don't know if Apple will ever make a new QuickTake camera and have it run on the iOS. However, there is some hope that an Android-based smartcamera isn't too far off.

System-on-a-chip manufacturer Ambarella has developed the iOne, a chip designed for digital still and video capture that has full support for the Android OS. Match it with a good lens, a large touch-screen display, Wi-Fi and/or 3G mobile broadband, and the ability to load it full of fun and useful photography apps, and that might be worth sticking in the pocket your phone's not in.