Elgan: The rise of the social picture gadget

Here's how the primacy of pictures on social networks is transforming consumer electronics.

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The primacy of pictures explains a lot

The rise of the visual Web explains a lot of Silicon Valley mysteries.

For example, why, according to content-sharing company Shareaholic, has Pinterest surpassed Yahoo to become the fourth-largest driver of traffic on the Internet?

Why was Facebook willing to pay such an absurdly high price for mobile photo-sharing service Instagram?

Why did Facebook create a separate mobile app just for pictures?

Why did Google build image-editing tools into Google+?

Why is Apple interested in buying The Fancy, a site that's similar to Pinterest but with an e-commerce component?

These events make no sense unless you recognize that success in social networking depends entirely on facilitating communication via pictures.

The rise of the social picture gadget

Smartphones do a lot of jobs for us, from communication to calendaring to navigation to entertainment. But suddenly, it's as if taking and viewing social pictures is the only thing that matters.

The gadget makers that facilitate this behavior will find the most customers.

A lot of new phones, such as Nokia's Lumia 920, are designed for great picture-taking and viewing. The Lumia 920 has two features that every phone will need from now on: A killer camera, and a killer screen for viewing high-resolution pictures even in sunlight.

Tellingly, the most buzzworthy aspect of its launch was that Nokia made a big apology for faking the quality of its camera in an advertisement. The phone's camera is very good, but Nokia faked the commercial because it recognizes how important camera quality is to the sales pitch.

Another recent development is the announcement of Nikon's new Coolpix S800c camera. The 16-megapixel camera actually runs a smartphone operating system -- Google's Android. You can download and use Android apps on it, and you can upload your pictures via Wi-Fi directly from the camera. They can even be geotagged with the camera's built-in GPS, or optimized with either built-in or downloaded photo editing apps.

One of my friends on Google+ expressed the consumer demand for social picture gadgets perfectly when he accompanied a post about the Coolpix S800c with the following comment: "This is what I want the iPhone 5 to be."

The rise of the visual Web is transforming expectations, desires and behaviors to the point where we no longer care if the gadget we carry is a "phone" or a "camera."

The emphasis for the gadgets we carry is suddenly on prosumer-quality photography, Internet connectivity and instant social networking. Even the ability to make calls is now secondary.

We just want a pocket-size social picture gadget that enables us to take, upload, share, discover and view stunning pictures from anywhere.

Whoever gives us the best one wins.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. You can contact Mike and learn more about him at Elgan.com, or subscribe to his free email newsletter, Mike's List. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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