Camera phones replacing Android and iPhone: People protest Samsung and Apple’s lack of innovation

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Camera phones replacing Android and iPhone: People protest Samsung and Apple’s lack of innovation
2023 marks just another year of the smartphone’s journey towards turning into a camera phone, and there’s nothing you and I can do to change that.

Take Xiaomi, for example. Huawei’s spiritual successor is now on the forefront of the smartphone camera evolution - phones like the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, Xiaomi 12S Ultra, and now the Xiaomi 13 Ultra (coming to the global market) perfectly illustrate the direction the Chinese tech giant has chosen to take, which is to turn its premium flagship phones into camera phones.

A massive, circular camera housing, a leather back, and strong focus on making an amazing camera first, and everything else second. Of course, other Chinese phone-makers like Vivo and Oppo have joined the camera phone party with their own Vivo X90 Pro and Oppo Find X6 Pro, but the camera phone evolution knows no physical borders.

Apple and Samsung are no strangers to the camera phone trend either, with Samsung having spent about 2/3 of its Galaxy S23 Ultra keynote time on the camera system of the phone, despite this one turned out to be virtually unchanged compared to last year's Galaxy S22 Ultra.

The thing is... I have a suspicion that the average person would appreciate if phone-makers didn’t put as much time and resources into just one area of the smartphone experience (the camera), and instead opted to spread all that R&D money and expertise towards improving phones in ways that matter… more.

Yes, our smartphones are turning into camera phones, and if you look into some comments online, the average smartphone user isn’t happy with Apple, Samsung, and Chinese phone-makers’ lack of innovation in other areas. Me neither.

Xiaomi 13 Ultra to set new standard for smartphone photography with far more impressive camera system than Galaxy S23 Ultra and iPhone 14 Pro, but at what cost?

First, the good news… This is Xiaomi’s brand new camera phone, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra - one of the primary candidates for the best camera phone of the year is launching April 18, and will be available globally! The smartphone photography enthusiast in me is quite excited to tell you everything this phone camera promises to bring, so here's a quick summary:

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  • A 50MP, 1-inch primary camera sensor - the same Sony IMX 989 that Xiaomi build in collaboration with Sony

  • A variable aperture for the same primary camera (f/1.9 - f/4.0), which should allow the Xiaomi 13 Ultra to get perfect focus on close-up subjects and wide scenes, class-leading, natural background blur, and cleaner night photos and videos

  • Two 50MP zoom cameras - a 3x shooter (a much larger sensor, which should output higher quality snaps than iPhone 14 Pro and Galaxy S23 Ultra), as well as a 5x zoom camera of the periscope variety with 10x lossless zoom via sensor-cropping; the zoom cameras are expected to boast some of the widest apertures ever for their respective focal lengths

If this sounds like the best smartphone camera system around, it’s because it likely will be. The Xiaomi 13 Ultra combines its 1-inch primary camera sensor with a variable aperture, which is a first on a phone, fusing the capabilities of the Xiaomi 13 Pro and Huawei Mate 50 Pro (Huawei is so far the only phone-maker that offers a variable aperture camera).

Xiaomi 13 Ultra, Galaxy S23 Ultra, iPhone 15 Ultra: Xiaomi, Samsung, Apple spend millions to make cameras a little bit better every year, but that might be holding flagship phones back in other key areas of the phone experience

See, with great power comes great responsibility (a saying that carries double meaning if you consider how powerful phones have become today), and apart from making the best camera phone for those who want one, Xiaomi is also setting a standard for the entire smartphone industry that other phone-makers will inevitably need to live up to - some more than others.

Inevitably, with every next “best camera phone”, there are three new ones that accept the challenge to one-up the current market leader. And that’s how we get into the vicious cycle of phone-makers that focus massive portions of their research and development budget and time in turning the smartphone into a camera phone. Again - nothing wrong with that, but I'd like to see more innovation in other areas.

New phones are now cameras, as people protest against Apple and Samsung’s lack of innovation in areas like battery life: "We are not buying new phones because they aren't getting any better"

It’s always fascinating to compare really old phones with recent ones, but just take a look at the first iPhone from 2007 next to the latest iPhone 14 Pro. I’m not sure how Steve Jobs would’ve felt about the massive camera bump on the iPhone 14 Pro series.

Samsung’s original Galaxy S flagship had a single 5MP camera, while the Galaxy S23 Ultra brings an elaborate setup of 200+12+12+10 MP. If you think about it, that makes a combined MP count of 234 MP, or nearly 50x higher than the first Galaxy S, which seems like an accurate representation of how much stronger Samsung's focus on cameras is today.

Finally, Xiaomi’s first phone looks like a phone… As opposed to the Xiaomi 13 Ultra that’s going to look (and probably feel) like a camera (which I quite like, but that's just me). In fact, Xiaomi has opted for a sloped back (as you can see in the renders), which takes the realcamerafeel to a whole new level.

Users want Apple and Samsung to stop focusing as heavily on cameras and make phones last longer; here are a bunch of ways to improve phones instead of their cameras

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Now, I get it - we’re approaching the ceiling of what a smartphone can do and “a record-breaking camera” is a very easy feature to sell and market. Also, most of the phones out there are good enough to last you 3-5 years, which is why people are upgrading much less frequently.

Sure, smartphones are no longer the exciting gadgets people used to get in line for ten years ago, but this doesn’t mean consumers don’t want their phones to become better smartphones, and not just better camera phones. In fact, judging by the comments under the video where CNBC is trying to find out if Apple and Samsung are “out of ideas” (attached above), people know exactly what they want from future smartphones.

The leading request from users on social media is that Apple, Samsung & Co should focus on developing new battery tech for longer battery life and make phones last longer in general. No one is bringing up cameras, which is a sign that the average person is pretty happy with the photos and videos their phone takes.

But since this is my editorial piece, and since I consider myself a regular smartphone user too, I too have plenty of suggestions for Apple, Samsung, and Xiaomi on how to make out smartphones better. Here are a few areas of the smartphone they might want to focus on in case they are running out of ideas…

  • Work on improving the typing experience on a phone keyboard, which has been wonky for ages

  • Give us better speakers like on the ASUS ROG Phone 7 series - I often listen to music on my phone and if the cameras on my Galaxy S23 Ultra and Pixel 7 Pro are 9/10, then the speakers leave a lot to be desired (like a 5/10)

  • Redesign phones on the inside so they are more easily repairable; what phone-makers are doing today is to wait for government officials to step in and demand changes that interest the user

  • This one’s for the Chinese phone-makers that compete to make the best camera phone: Keep making amazing camera phones, but how about you focus on delivering timely software updates and support along the way? Looking at Xiaomi specifically

  • Explore the possibility of bringing back metal phones, while retaining wireless charging; work on making phones fully water-proof (most current phones are just water-resistant); develop innovative cooling solutions to boost performance; give us fast charging (Apple, and Google)... I can keep going

Yes, our phones re becoming camera phones as Google’s Pixel is leading an uneven fight to make phones smart again

Speaking of Google, the Pixel-maker might be the only OEM that’s actively trying to make phones smarter. Don't get me wrong, it’s not that Google doesn’t focus on cameras (quite the opposite), but the company’s natural inclination towards software development helps bring innovative and sometimes unique software features to Pixels every year, even in the area of cameras (Magic Eraser).

Now, as I wrap up this novel of a story, I don't want anyone to think I condemn camera phones. In fact, I’d be first in line to get my hands on the latest and greatest camera phone (like the Xiaomi 13 Ultra) but that’s because I'm an enthusiast. The thing is that “regular” people aren’t nearly as excited to see a new phone camera that performs 5.8% better than the old one.

As you can tell by real comments left by real people on the internet (refer to the video attached above), most of them want phones that last longer on a single charge, for example. On the other hand, I want my phone’s speakers to sound at least as good as a gaming phone/small tablet, and I'm 100% sure that if Apple, Samsung & Co allocated more R&D resources to improving different areas of the smartphone instead of the camera (only), that would be 100% achievable.

Camera phones are great but let's make better smartphones too, phone-makers?

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