Alvin Soon's Blog

Alvin Soon male Associate Features Editor

I like coffee and cameras, but not together.

It's All Too Much

Have you walked into an electronics store and tried to buy a camera lately? It's madness. I review cameras for a living and even I can't make sense out of the incredible number of models available.

In fact, there are so many cameras being released in a year I have to keep a spreadsheet to track them all. Some of these models are so similar it's ridiculous; you could have two new cameras from the same manufacturer which are nearly identical but for screen size (or some other seemingly arbitrary difference, like 5x zoom instead of 7x). If a full-time camera reviewer can't even do it, I wonder how consumers keep up.

If you haven't been inside a store lately, here's some numbers for you. Digital compact cameras are usually released twice a year in a yearly cycle, for spring and autumn. For example, entry-level compact cameras may all be announced during spring and last for the year until the next spring. In January 2012 alone, Panasonic and Nikon have announced 12 new models each, Fujifilm has announced an astounding 26 models.

Is there a magical way for customers to get clearer on the products being offered by manufacturers, and even for manufacturers to turn an even neater profit? Maybe there is; and it's what the largest technology company in the world by revenue and profit does.

Apple announced their Q1 2012 results last month, an astronomical US$46.33 billion revenue with a net quarterly profit of US$13.06 billion, and 37 million iPhones, 15.43 million iPads, 5.2 million Macs, 15.4 million iPods sold. As amazing as those numbers are, it's even more remarkable when you take into account how few product lines Apple has in comparison with other hardware manufacturers. Their best-selling product, the iPhone, has only one current model per year. It's the same for their second best-selling product, the iPad.

Streamlining choice isn't the sole secret to Apple's success - but it certainly helps. Having less and clearly defined choices can make it easier for customers to buy. A study conducted in 1995 showed how having too much choice can actually prevent people from choosing.

Columbia professor Sheena Iyengar and her assistants set up a booth of jam samples in a market. Every few hours, they switched from offering 24 jams to only six jams. They discovered that when they offered 24 jams, more people stopped to try. But when they offered less jams, more people would buy; 30 percent of people who tasted from the six jams bought jam, and only three percent of those faced with 24 jams bought any.

What if a camera manufacturer only offered a core selection of cameras – say, an entry-level model, a mid-range model and a high-end model? Wouldn't that be easier for the customer to choose from than, say, fifteen compact camera models? And maybe, with fewer models to focus on, more resources could be devoted to making each product 'insanely great' instead of just simply a little different from its brethren?

I visited Nikon HQ in Tokyo last week, and when I asked why they launch so many compact cameras at a go (12 this time), I was given the same answer I've heard from other manufacturers. Basically that different models go to different countries, some models do well in some countries while others don't.

While that sounds like a reasonable answer, it also sounds like a chicken and egg situation. You could say that camera companies make so many models because of customer demand, or you could say that customers demand different models because the companies make so many. It's also a strategy that may be not be working at a time when compact cameras are facing competition from smartphone cameras. Sony has already come out and revealed that digital compact camera sales were down 20 percent last year across the entire industry.

The story is that when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he radically simplified the company's product lines. In his absence, Apple had released a bloated assortment of products, including digital cameras and printers. Jobs simply drew a cross with four segments, on top it had consumer and pro, on the sides it had desktop and portable. And that was all Apple was going to focus on making from then on. The result of that focus has since spoken for itself.

All Reponses

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To add on, other than those who really do their homework, notice what happens at the store front? There are probably 50 to 60 compact cameras from all the different brands. Specs like 12MP vs. 16MP doesn't matter much anymore. So what do many consumers do to make a purchase decision?

They turn to ask the salesman for suggestions. Now we all know how skilled most of them are, don't we? There are only few who can really guide a consumer well. The rest will gather hearsay and pummel you with specs. Others will get personal and just divert you to cameras they personally prefer or whichever brings them the most commission.

Most consumers don't really have much of a choice but to listen to these salesmen to quickly make a purchase decision. Perhaps with fewer, more focused options, more consumers make a better choice to nab the product that meets their preferences.

That's what it's all about really, not less choice for the sake of less, but helping the customer make easier and more clear purchases without having to read through lots of reviews or do a lot of homework.

I disagree with Baal. Apple may not deal with cameras but their approach is actually applicable to the camera scene. Who would had expected Apple to succeed in the smartphone arena before they came up with the iPhone? They were merely known for their iPods.
Personally I hated how handphone companies (e.g. Nokia) had so many phones with so similar features and just different design in aesthetics. I did not like the feeling of buying a new phone thinking I 'upgraded' and find out that the features were mostly the same as my old phone. I liked how Apple focused all their energies and attention on few products and actually make each and every new product distinct and actually worth upgrading to. This is the same as the consumer compact camera scene.
Btw, it's very tiring and troublesome to look up the internet and check the review sites and flickr and compare. Not everyone has all the time in the world like to u spend it doing this. It can get pretty confusing since there are sooo many cameras out there.

Im by no means a camera expert ( in fact the camera on my phone meets 99% of my requirement > at 12 mega pixels it should )but i remember the days of the "flag ship" camera then a few variation in colour finish and accessories. My good old Canon IXUS stainless steel was bullet proof. ( right up until i got careless and it was stolen)
My point is why do manufacturers think and clearly they do, that producing so many models is a good thing. The old mindset of selling a basic model then selling add on's is gone in the compact camera market it would seem.

My golden rule when buying ( camera, laptop,phone, PC components) is wallow in the warm feeling of finally buying what you want, for as long as possible and don't under any circumstances visit the shop, mega store, on-line store, read reviews for at least a month. We all know that what we buy today is old tomorrow. Sad but true

No matter how many cameras the manufacturer are trying to push out to flood the market, there are only so few good ones to choose from in very segment.
Most are junks....

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