Opinion: Samsung smartwatch? Stupid. Sony lens camera? Smart!

Credit: Sony

The biggest news to come out of IFA, Europe's version of the Consumer Electronics Show— undeservedly so, IMHO — was Samsung's Galaxy Gear; "it's a 'wearable' not a smartwatch" smartwatch.

Why undeservedly? My two cents: Galaxy Gear is too pricey, it's compatible only with a limited number of Samsung's devices, it's meant to match the fancy leather-backed Galaxy Note 3 phablet and tablet but looks like a Swatch, it's too clunky for even medium-sized wrists, it takes only antediluvian 1.9-megapixel photos, and can you imagine walking down the street holding the back of your wrist to your ear to conduct a conversation via the clasp mic/earpiece? And you thought wearing a Bluetooth earpiece all the time made you look stupid (if you didn't, well, it does).

No, there were far more important and future-impactful device developments that debuted in Berlin. And one in particular could change how we take photos forever.

Camera Market Free Fall

One additional aspect of the new iPhone 5s relates to this most important IFA intro: the improved camera. Apple has taken the HTC One route for photo improvement; instead of jacking up to more useless megapixels, Apple made the existing 8-megapixels on 5s' BSI CMOS sensor 15 percent larger to improve low light performance, the Achilles' heel of all smartphone cameras. Coupled with the dual cool/warm TrueTone flash, the f/2.2 lens, image stabilization and Apple's A7 64-bit processor power, and iPhone's already best-in-class camera should be even better.

It's this kind of smartphone camera improvement that's been prompting us to leave our digital cameras home in droves. According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the folks who run CES, sales of point-and-shoot cameras are in the midst of a 44 percent Felix Baumgartner-like free fall this year after an Acapulco cliff dive of 35 percent last year.

So it's no surprise that camera makers want to combat this smartphone camera menace as murderously as Boardwalk Empire'sNucky Thompson did Gyp Rosetti (and vice versa).

One tactic has been the development of the so-called compact system camera (CSC), interchangeable lens cameras on bodies the size of point-and-shoot cameras. Again according to CEA, sales of these $500-plus CSCs will grow 18 percent this year.

These positive CSC sales indicate we still want to take high-quality photos. But most smartphones take barely adequate snaps, and that's damning with barely perceptible praise. And no matter how much Apple and other smartphoners smarten up their cameras, we're still capturing those priceless once-in-a-lifetime/cherish-forever memories through no more than a fancy peephole.

The Smartphone Photo Solution?

Which, at long last, leads us to what may possibly be the most fascinating new product unveiled at IFA, and perhaps the year: the Sony QX lens cameras.

In case you've missed this news, the two QX models — the QX100 ($500) and the QX10 ($250, pictured) — are bodyless cameras, or, a complete camera in a lens sans screen and body.

A mount with adjustable clamps attaches the QX lens to the phone to create a Frankenstein camera. The QX then pairs to the phone via Wi-Fi Direct (via NFC, if your smartphone is so equipped), so you can see what the lens sees on your smartphone screen via Sony's PlayMemories Mobile app for Android or iOS.

Or, just hold the QX in your other hand, or place it somewhere across the room or even another room, as long as it's within Wi-Fi range, to view and control remotely for selfies, surreptitious or self-including group shots.

The point is, you now can now bypass the crappy peephole smartphone camera lens to shoot CSC- or DSLR-quality photos or 1080p MPEG-4 (not AVCHD) video. The sophisticated QX100 is endowed with a DSLR-like 1-inch 20.2-megapixel APS-C sensor inside a 28mm-100mm 3.6x optical zoom lens; the QX10 shoots 18.2-megapixel photos through a 25-250mm 10x optical zoom Sony G lens.

Photos are saved to both the QX on a microSD card in high-resolution and to your phone in share-friendly low resolution.

The Big Catch

Except, the QXs are badly flawed. They're too expensive, and establishing and then maintaining the Wi-Fi Direct connection is a pain in the rear (I'll have a full review in a week or so).

But while Sony's first-generation lens cams may need work, you can lay money that every camera maker and cheap knock-off company will scramble to clone the clever QX concept, but at more popular prices and perhaps in phone-specific models.

By CES this coming January, or maybe even in time for the pending holiday shopping season, I envision cheaper external lens/case combos specifically for the iPhone 5/5s/4/4s or the Samsung Galaxy S4.Maybe one that connects directly to the iPhone's Lightning or an Android/Window phone's microUSB connector to complement the cool but convoluted and unpredictable Wi-Fi Direct connection.

Perhaps even Sony will see the error of its pricing ways and unveil its own sub-$150 QX model and iPhone/Galaxy S4-specific solutions.

In all events, I predict QX will spark a land rush by desperate camera makers to fill out this whole new smartphone accessory camera category. If this prediction comes true, the QX, not any stupid smartwatch, can lay claim to this year's most important and innovative new gadget.

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