The transformation of phones is obvious: Phones are now competing primarily over the quality of the overall experience with taking pictures and sharing them.
But within a year or two, most major point-and-shoot cameras, and even prosumer cameras, will ship with Wi-Fi or mobile broadband or both, plus software for quickly posting to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Google+.
The Samsung Galaxy Camera and the Nikon COOLPIX S800c represent the future of all digital point-and-shoot cameras. These devices don’t make phone calls, but enable wireless connectivity to the Internet and the social sharing of pictures.
As point-and-shoot cameras get cell phone operating systems and smartphone-like capabilities for social sharing, no part of the digital camera market is unaffected. Even the high-end prosumer cameras are being redesigned for social photography.
The Nikon D600, for example, uses Wi-Fi to connect with your smartphone. You can control the shutter and other functions with a phone, then use the phone to extract and upload pictures to the social networks.
Cameras in phones are also driving the app economy. Both the Android Play Store and the iOS App Store offer huge selections of camera and photography apps.
One example is a $2.99 iPhone app called Blux Camera, which gives you Instagram- and Photoshop-like filters and effects. The difference is that the app will show you the effect on screen in real-time before you take the picture. It even has intelligence that will use location and weather information to suggest a filter.
This is just one of hundreds of camera apps that do things regular digital cameras can’t do.
It’s also worth noting the importance of the camera feature in smart phones that isn’t about sharing photographs. Apps increasingly integrate cameras as document scanners, barcode scanners, augmented reality applications, junk mail reduction services, video conferencing and many others that use the camera as a sensor, rather than a picture taker.
Above all, camera phones are transforming social networking. People are beginning to communicate less with words and more with pictures, leading to the rise in picture-centric sites like Pinterest, and transforming what kind of content is most popular on Facebook, Google+, Reddit and Twitter.
As social networks increasingly become how humans communicate about everything, pictures are becoming the most appealing way for people to share on social networks.
Camera phones are affecting politics, as gaffs, blunders and inappropriate behavior is caught on phones and uploaded to the social web. Camera phones are capturing and shaming police brutality, political violence and tyranny, enabling millions of people all over the world to witness things with their own eyes for the first time in history.
I can’t think of any technology right now that’s disrupting human culture like the once-humble camera phone.