Few tech companies can go it all alone. In the technology industry at large, providing programmatic access to one’s software or hardware is a standard practice for building ecosystems around one’s platform. This is not a sign of weakness. Even the Big 5 consumer tech companies (Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon) offer APIs (application program interfaces) or SDKs (software development kits) to enable start-up developers to create solutions that leverage, and boost, their platforms.
Vendors don’t just passively offer their APIs or SDKs. They often go all out in promoting their solutions to (potential) developers, for instance through high-profile and well-attended developer conferences. These include Apple’s WWDC, Facebook’s F8 and Google I/O, where developers get showered with expensive swag and cooler-than-cool parties.
And it’s not just the platform vendors who vie for the developers’ mindshare. It’s also mobile device manufacturers, such as Samsung (Samsung Developer Conference), or software companies like Adobe (Adobe Max).
But how about camera vendors? This is a world in which traditionally a handful of manufacturers have dominated by primarily competing through ever-more sophisticated optics and sensors. So luring developers to build value-added solutions is a relatively new thought.
That’s changing. We reached out to several camera vendors and recorded the initiatives from three. They are a digital camera vendor (Canon), an action cam vendor (GoPro) and a 360º camera vendor (Ricoh).
Camera Makers Partnering with Start-Up Developers
Canon: Showcasing Tech; Giving Trade Show Exposure; Organizing Hackathons
For the first time last year, Canon invited developers to showcase their use of Canon technology in the Canon booth at CES, under the motto “Visionaries Welcome.” For Canon, highlighting what partners could do with its technology signified a major shift from traditionally showing only Canon products.
In 2017, Canon’s CES booth hosted start-ups such as the 3D scanning/printing company Solidiphy; the interactive experience company FoxTales; photo-shoot solutions company StyleShoots; and greeting card solutions provider Card Isle. This year’s CES booth is again showcasing a range of start-ups that leverage Canon’s technology, including some from last year, as well as About Golf, Fellow Roberts and Brizi. Canon USA recently also organized its first-ever imaging-focused hackathon in New York City. Code Canon challenged hackers to create new applications that use Canon’s EOS DSLR SDK for Canon’s new multipurpose module camera. The hackathon attracted 82 participants, divided into 17 teams. Overall winner MochoPhoto developed an AI-fueled real-time photo marketplace that allows consumers to monitor photo streams from multiple photographers at live events and to instantly purchase the images to their likings.
GoPro: Enabling Developers to Leverage Its Cameras’ Rich Metadata
Action cams capture a rich set of metadata. This metadata goes up and above the EXIF-type of image metadata we’re used to with digital cameras. For instance, GoPro cameras capture accelerometer, gyroscope, high-frequency GPS location and camera temperature data, in addition to the traditional image metadata. Access to this data could be a treasure trove for developers who need to build specific value-added solutions.
In May of last year, GoPro launched its General Purpose Metadata Framework. The platform stores GoPro’s metadata as a new track within MP4 files, complementing the existing video and audio tracks. To encourage developers to leverage its cameras’ metadata, GoPro also open-sourced its metadata parser.
GoPro already enjoys a high inbound interest from developers in various vertical markets. So it has primarily focused on supporting developer needs rather than proactively promoting their developer tools to attract more developers.
Still, at various trade shows, GoPro does often offer booth space to a limited set of developers. It enables them to showcase their solutions (and, by implication, GoPro’s developer tools). For example, at last year’s CES, Timecode Systems showed their timecode sync accessory, which enables wireless timecode syncing of multiple GoPros, as well as GoPros with pro cameras and pro audio devices.
Ricoh: Enabling Developers to Create Plug-ins Leveraging Theta V’s OS
At CES this year, Ricoh is highlighting its Ricoh Theta V partner program. It leverages the combination of two differentiating features of its Theta V 360º camera. 1. The camera performs the stitching of 360º imagery directly in-camera (rather than on a PC or in the cloud). 2. The Theta now runs on the Android operating system rather than a proprietary OS.
Ricoh’s API, SDK and development tools will enable developers to create apps and plug-ins that are directly accessible in the camera. To indicate what’s feasible, Ricoh already developed several plug-ins, including a remote playback plug-in. It makes it possible to display/control playback of 360º images and video in the camera on a large-screen monitor. In other words, the plug-in turns the camera into a remote control.
Going forward, Ricoh is particularly interested in engaging with developers who can build value-added solutions for vertical markets that could leverage 360º imagery. These could include real estate, construction and tourism. The company is also planning to open an online partner marketplace where plug-ins can be shared.
In sum: while camera vendors don’t have much of a history in engaging developers to build value-added solutions for their cameras, several manufacturers have come to realize that in today’s fast-moving competitive environment, they can’t meet all their customers’ needs without engaging innovative developers.
I am encouraged to see not just relatively “newcomers”—such as 360º-capable camera and action cam vendors—starting to engage with developers, but also an established incumbent such as Canon building out its developer outreach program. I look forward to seeing who else will follow!
Hans Hartman is chair of Visual 1st (formerly Mobile Photo Connect), a conference focused on promoting innovation and partnerships in the photo and video ecosystem