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6 ways Canon could turn the PowerShot N into the social networking camera we want

Last week, Canon refreshed several of its PowerShot camera and Pixma photo printer lineups, all emphasizing Wi-Fi connectivity. Slipped into the new announcements, however, is an updated version to the PowerShot N, that peculiar (and awkward), square camera geared toward “connected” youths who value the ability to share their photos.

During an advanced briefing where Canon introduced the new N, we got a bit excited. Even though it’s less than a year old, we found the original N to be a less-than-stellar experience. Yet, we like the concept and want to see how a traditional camera company like Canon could contribute to the social aspect of photography that has seen smartphone usage shoot to the top.

So imagine our disappointment and confusion when we were told the new PowerShot N is actually the same one in store shelves now, with the addition of a new Facebook button, a new startup screen, and Canon’s tweaked-but-still-the-same Wi-Fi menu. Plus, you can only get it via Canon’s online store. Yawn.

If Canon wants to attract a crowd of teenagers to its door with this thing, it needs to do much more than simply adding a Facebook button. The company needs to research not just what’s popular now, but what’s ahead. It’ll also need to break out of its comfort zone and build something that’s truly radical, yet preserving the image quality its cameras are known for. It needs to give people a good and fun reason to carry two devices.

Should the company need help on where to start, here are five improvements we’d like to see with the PowerShot N experience.

1. There’s more than just Facebook

With an average of 350 million photos uploaded a day, there’s no denying Facebook is one of the most popular destinations for photo sharing. But adding a Facebook button in 2013 is embarrassingly late to the party. Canon needs to support Facebook, but it also needs to acknowledge the other major players that are popular with the youth: Instagram, Twitter, Flickr, Google+, and Tumblr, just to name a few. We’d like to see a button that takes you to a menu that lists all these sites (even better, let users check off all the sites they want a photo posted onto from the playback menu), or allow the user to pick the ones they use often.

2. Look ahead

But rather than responding to what’s happened or happening now, Canon also needs to look ahead and find emerging trends. Could lifelogging become a hit? Many of the lifelogging cameras in the market now or coming to market don’t offer the greatest image quality. With the N’s wearable design around the neck and stronger lens and sensor, lifelogging could become a more enjoyable experience.

While it’s all about digital sharing, there’s a growing appreciation for all things analog among the younger generation (after all, they’ve probably never grew up with film). We’re not suggesting Canon build in film support, but it could pair it with a portable printer that can churn out Polaroid-like prints (printing is one of Canon’s specialities). No company has a crystal ball, but a walk through Brooklyn or Tokyo could help the company gain some insight to how young people use their cameras.

3. Update the Wi-Fi UI, and put cellular in it

Canon recently updated its Wi-Fi implementation with support for Flickr and easier setup without having to initially connect to a computer. That’s a good start, but the Wi-Fi user interface is largely the same as before, a UI experience we’re not particularly fond of. Part of the problem is that to connect to any of the supported social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr), you are required to upload to Canon’s Image Gateway portal first. We’d like to see Canon follow Samsung’s example and allow users to connect directly to a social networking site.

The main reason why smartphones are so popular is because they are always connected. Wi-Fi is useful, but it’s not always available. Currently, Canon’s Wi-Fi-enabled cameras can interact with a smartphone to upload photos to the Web. We think Canon needs to break this dependency and let users instantly share content, and that means the PowerShot N needs to have some form of cellular connectivity. LTE would be great, but even 3G would give the camera a boost. Cell phone carriers might be new territory for Canon, but the company should partner up with one to dip its feet in the water.

4. Change the design, enhance the features

The N has a unique design, but that’s not to say it’s practical. It’s heavy and chunky, making it a chore to carry or pocket. We don’t think a traditional camera’s rectangular form-factor is a bad one, but it should be easy to use, slim, and lightweight. Instead of a protruding optical lens how about an internal one? Putting zoom and shutter control around the lens is novel, but let’s make that work better. Image quality is good, but it could be better. How about textures or changeable faceplates? Could Canon make it as small and cute as Nikon’s tiny Coolpix S01? Canon needs to design a camera that’s comfortable to use (or wear) without sacrificing the image quality. It’s a tall order, but we are sure Canon has some talented engineers in its R&D who can answer that call.

One opportunity we think the N completely missed is the selfie. Because the display can’t tilt to 180 degrees, it’s difficult to take self-portraits. We think this is a fix that can be implemented very easily.

What about Vine-like animated GIFs? Or Canon’s newly announced Star scene mode for shooting awesome night skies? Don’t forget about those love-them-or-hate-them filters. How about a way to upload photos instantly to the cloud, like a Dropbox account? These are just some of the things the company can add to make this camera not only functional but fun.

5. Look to theQ


theQ, “world’s first social camera.”

Canon is not known for taking risks. It likes to study what’s out in the market and improve upon them. This cautious approach allows for plenty of missed opportunities, but if Canon needs an example to build upon, look no further than theQ. Billed as the “world’s first social camera,” theQ is a fun-looking camera that’s waterproof and simple to use, yet with onboard 3G you can upload your photos directly and instantly to a social networking site. It has a bright LED ring light around the f/2.4 lens, and has built-in filters for shooting dream-like Lomo (or Instagram, if you will) photos.

The thing about theQ is that the pictures aren’t that great. Like smartphones, theQ embraces the idea of the moment. We think Canon can take this further by creating a camera that has all theQ has, plus bang-on image quality. People are willing to sacrifice quality for convenience, but if Canon can create an N that says, “No, you don’t have to give up both,” we think it could be onto a winner. The N is already a bit of a departure for Canon; it needs to let loose and take some risks.

6. Make it cheaper

We know that this is on every consumer’s wish list, but at $300, the N is just too expensive. Remember, Canon is essentially competing against smartphones that, aside from the monthly service fee, cost less. We think slashing another $100 would make the price easier to swallow.

Of course, we acknowledge that it’s easier said than done, but our simple suggestions show that Canon needs to put more effort into a camera that’s all about being social. Got a recommendation on how to make the PowerShot N better? Share it in the comments.

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