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How camera makers are screwing up on Wi-Fi

The time is right for cameras with built-in Wi-Fi, but manufacturers don't seem to understand how to make it succeed.

Samsung's new NX-series mirrorless cameras all have built-in Wi-Fi.

A few years ago, digital cameras with built-in Wi-Fi didn't make that much sense. It was basically no better than using a USB cable, and a really slow one at that.

Now, though, the time is right. With more people packing smartphones and mobile hot spots, a camera with Wi-Fi will give you the control, flexibility, and quality of a dedicated camera with the capability to back up to cloud services, computer, or mobile device while you shoot, or share shots online without offloading to a computer first.

It's a golden opportunity to combat some of the drop-off caused by smartphones and households that already have one or more cameras. And most camera manufacturers do have at least one Wi-Fi camera in their lineups this year or increased support for Eye-Fi wireless SD cards.

However, it seems like they still don't understand how to sell Wi-Fi to consumers and make it a compelling reason to buy a camera.

Here's a brief list of what I see is going wrong and what camera makers need to do.

1. Put Wi-Fi in most, if not all, models.
By only putting Wi-Fi in certain models you're making consumers choose whether they want the other features of the camera or one with Wi-Fi. For example, say I really want a full-size megazoom with a 30x zoom lens and electronic viewfinder, but you're only offering Wi-Fi in a 20x compact megazoom. Consumers just won't see it as important enough to move to a completely different model than what they wanted.

Make it available in every model, though, and consumers who didn't think it was important might change their minds. Samsung seems to be the only camera maker that gets this. For 2012, several of its point-and-shoots have built-in Wi-Fi, and now its new interchangeable lens cameras do, too. I understand leaving it out of the sub-$150 cameras, but everything above that should have Wi-Fi built in. Which brings me to the next issue.

2. Stop making Wi-Fi an upsell.
For 2012, Sony and Canon have cameras that come with or without Wi-Fi, making consumers spend more money for a feature they're probably not sure they want or need. This is not how you get price-sensitive potential buyers interested in putting down their smartphones and using a camera.

Similarly, Nikon announced a $60 Wi-Fi adapter for its new entry-level dSLR, the D3200. As you can see in the picture below, it hangs out of the body; not a very elegant solution. It really should've been internal and built in to the camera's cost.

Nikon's asking for an extra $60 to add Wi-Fi to its $700 entry-level dSLR, the D3200. Nikon

3. Make setup dead simple.
Samsung's setup process is fairly painless, both for connecting to your smartphone and to a wireless network. If you want to send images over Wi-Fi directly to Facebook, that process is as easy as putting in your account information. On the other hand, Panasonic's process is horrible, requiring way too much effort from the user. If you want people to pick a Wi-Fi camera over a mobile broadband-connected device, you can't make them think. It just has to be simple, fast, and effective or it won't get used.

Also, the cameras need to work with public networks that require agreeing to terms of service, which means having some sort of minibrowser on the camera. What good is being able to upload directly from a camera if you can't do it from any public hot spot?

4. Create supporting apps that do more than transfer files.
Right now, all the apps I've tested only really do one or two things: let you see the files on your camera and transfer files to your mobile device. Once you've transferred your files, you have to exit the app to do anything else before you upload.

This seems like a perfect opportunity to give consumers some value-add editing or organizing features. Samsung at least has a secondary remote viewfinder app that lets you use your smartphone to control your camera, but the performance is so laggy that it's not good for much. If you want consumers to buy into Wi-Fi, you need to do more than offer wireless transfers.

5. Provide backup software and apps that work for Windows and Mac and iOS and Andriod. Yes, all of them.
There are few things more frustrating than buying a new piece of tech only to find out that it's unfinished and won't work with the rest of your stuff. Panasonic and Samsung's backup software only works with Windows. Canon released its Wi-Fi cameras with iOS apps only and Nikon only has an Android app. Samsung is way worse, though, with poor iOS support and Android apps that are only guaranteed to work with Samsung Galaxy devices. It's this kind of behavior that turns consumers off and makes them stop using and buying products. You can promise support is coming all you want, but until it arrives, your product is unfinished.

Again, aside from its wonky app support, Samsung seems to understand that there needs to be an aggressive push for wireless. Everyone else seems to still be taking a wait-and-see approach, which at this point in the game is just foolish. I'm starting to think the camera industry is as stuck in the past as publishing.