Dear OEMs, don’t close the shutters on the camera button

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Across the pond at MWC, Microsoft had a few things to say about its upcoming and much anticipated Windows Phone 8.1 update. In addition to nine new hardware partners all taking a bite of the Windows Phone pie, and Android dual-booting goodness, it was also announced that Microsoft would no longer be requiring hardware buttons on their phones, including the much loved camera button.

I get it. I really do. When you’re attacking the low-end market, pennies count, and the fewer pennies you have to spend on a handset, the better. A lot of OEMs may take this as a real bonus, but I hope not all of them do. The camera button offers so much more than just a physical button press. It’s a characteristic of Windows Phones. It’s almost a signature at this point. Not to mention the fact that they do what they do very well.

nokia-lumia-920Quick! A camera!

I personally love the shutter button on my Lumia 920, for a number of reasons. The quick launch of the camera app is one nice thing in particular. ‘Tis true I unlock my phone with a double tap more often than not since the Lumia Black update. But for those moments I take out my phone specifically to take a picture, the camera button in the one my fingers seek out. I don’t even have a tile for my camera on my home screen – don’t need one. That’s what the camera button is for.

Some might argue that just because the pressy-pressy button won’t be there doesn’t mean there won’t be another button –like a capacitive button for example. Quick launching the camera would still be possible with something like that. This is true. It also would almost force you to use your camera phone in landscape mode – you know, like a real camera. There is something to be said for holding the camera with two hands, one finger on the button. It helps stabilize the shot and it reminds users of Windows Phone’s (more specifically Nokia’s) major benefit/contribution to the smartphone space – the camera.

Holding the phone like a camera makes sense when you’re using your phone…wait for it…like a camera. So having the hardware button where it is makes all the sense in the world, and if you ask me, contributes to better photography on the Internet because of it – or at least 3% of it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Nokia_Lumia_620_02No press for you!

But one thing a capacitive button can’t do that I also enjoy on the Lumia is the half-press-to-focus. This talking point has been done to death, but suffice it to say, I in particular would miss the benefit this brings a camera-phone user. It’s pretty ingrained into our psyche and to lose that would just be a shame. Yes, I know you can press and hold to focus and release to snap the shot. Shush.

Plus (I want to circle back to this point a bit) the camera button is almost a signature of Windows Phones. There are non-Windows Phones out there with camera buttons and indeed there has been a Windows Phone in the past with no camera button. But aside from those few exceptions, the rule has been Windows Phone = camera-button-toting hardware. I wouldn’t mind seeing Microsoft set a low ceiling on getting rid of the hardware. If the projected cost would be less than XX dollars, then go ahead and skip it. That’s fine, but leave it on the high-end stuff where cost isn’t as much of a factor. There may be some design students out there that curse having one button isolated by itself near the bottom of the chassis (in portrait mode) but I can’t imagine there was a huge cry for this decision. I could be wrong, but it doesn’t seem so glaringly out of place so as to be a deal breaker for designing something with it.

Dwindling supply

Finally, I just want to point out that I think we in the smartphone space have been pretty cool about all the button-hate going on in there. First you killed the Dell Venue Pro phone with the portrait keyboard. Then you killed Palm and Blackberry and all their buttony goodness. Now you’re coming after our camera shutter button. Well enough’s enough. You can take our lives, but you’ll never take our buttons!

That’s right OEMs, you’re the English nobility, and I’m blue-faced Mel Gibson minus the racism. I know you’re eventually going to cut my head off while I hallucinate about my dead wife, but in the meantime we’ll put up a heckuva fight, maybe burn a castle or two.

Or maybe I’m the only one who cares. So now I have to ask, commeters. Are ye with me? It’s better to live one day as a lion with a camera button, than 1,000 years as a lamb. Are you a lion with me?

Mel Gibson

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs.Read more about Adam Doud!