The Camera as the App Layer

Your phone increasingly knows what you’re taking a picture of. And which apps you have installed. So…

Undoubtedly like most of you, I’m now years into taking pictures of just about everything. Not just of my family, or what I’m doing, or what I’m eating, or what I’m drinking, but literally everything. Receipts. Where I parked. What I just bought. What I’m thinking about buying. A movie I want to remember to watch. Something I need to remember to buy at the store. Everything.

I’ve written before about the concept of taking pictures of anything and everything and letting algorithms sort out what we need to parse in the images, but I’ve been thinking about something far more simple recently.

What I really want in a mobile OS is the ability to fire up the camera, take a picture, and launch apps and/or services from there based on that picture. A good example: I’ve been using an app called Vivino to track the wine we’re drinking and/or buying. Why on Earth do I need to load Vivino, then hit the camera button inside the Vivino app to take the photo? This is slow. Beyond swiping and pecking for the app itself, it takes a few seconds to load. Shouldn’t I just be able to take the photo with my camera app and launch Vivino right from there, wrapping it around that image?

Yes, you can sort of do this now via the share sheet. Some apps allow you to share images into them from this pane.¹ This is still way too cumbersome. And seemingly unecessary. Given enough smarts, the camera should know I just took a photo of a wine label, and know that I have the Vivino app installed, so it should automatically pop up the option to load the app.²

Or not even load the app. Just do some basic app-like things right there, inside the camera app, powered by something like Vivino. A micro app, of sorts, with the camera as the springboard.³

I can think of at least a dozen other examples like this. Others clearly can as well. This is so obviously how phone cameras should work in 2019 that I’m honestly surprised they don’t. I know Google Lens is taking us steps closer to some of what I want from a smartphone camera. Seemingly so is Snapchat. But there are even more obvious things that should be table stakes for all the mobile OS default cameras.

And, picture this: implemented correctly, it could even serve as a new platform/app discovery vector. I can think of a number of apps/services that I don’t have — or worse, that I do have but don’t use because they’re buried in some folder and forgotten. I would undoubtedly use them if served up to me in a timely manner as an option from the camera.

Which again, I use for everything.

Note: this post was adapted from my newsletter published last week. Those interested can sign up here.

¹ Though Vivino is not one of them!

² Similar to what happens now when you take a picture of a QR code, perhaps.

³ Yes, some apps allow you to do a variation of this — Annotable being one example that I like. Others let you quickly jump in from the “Edit” area of the Photos app — Camera+ is a good example of this. This is a lot better than the full on share-to-app experience, but it’s still a bit too heavy, not to mention far too buried, with far too many taps required, and not at all obvious.