The Rise of the Smartphone Ecosystem and Kodak’s Fall

A brief history of photography,

The basic concepts of photography can be traced back to China, 5th century B.C. where it was discovered that an upside-down image is formed on the opposite wall when viewed through a “pinhole”. In the 4th century B.C., Greek philosopher Aristotle had discussed the same concept [1]. Centuries later, in 1021 C.E, an Iraqi scientist Alhazen described the camera obscura (image projection) in his optics book, one of the two critical principles for the photography we know today, the second principle being that the exposure to light can cause visibly alternation of some substances. [2-3]

The basic concept of a pinhole camera [1]
Many more incremental steps where achieved throughout the years, some notable ones are Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery that white light is composed of different colors (17th century), Johann Zahn’s vision that cameras will be small and portable (1685), Joseph Nicephore Niepce’s invention of the Heliograph used to produce the earliest known permanent photograph (1826) and more that followed. [4]


The world’s first photo, taken by Joseph Nicephore Niepce in 1826 of his window view in Burgundy, France. The picture was captured by the “Heliography” process and took 8 hours to shot [5]

The rise of amateur photography.

In 1888 Kodak, led by George Eastman, released its first camera model that marked the beginning of amateur photography. The camera used a flexible film-roll that did not require a cumbersome solid plate change that earlier models did and had a box that held 100 film exposures. The company manufactured many innovative products since and was a dominant player in the photographic market for many years. [6-7]

The shift to digital.

The introduction of digital cameras in the 1990’s revolutionized photography. By 1991, Kodak introduced its digital camera. Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and other manufacturers soon followed. As digital images were transmitted and edited faster than film, by the end of the 20th century most newspapers and magazines moved to a digital workflow process and by 2007 many amateur pictures were taken on digital cameras. Users no longer had to take a photo and wait for days, at times months before seeing their photos. Moreover, users could take as many photos as they’d like only at the cost of their battery life and/or storage capacity. The stand-alone digital camera was short lived though – with the introduction of cellphones, tablets and most notably smartphones, less and less pictures were taken on dedicated digital cameras. [1, 6-7]

The introduction of smartphones and the winners of the newly emerged smartphone ecosystem.

The most profound change to digital photography came in 2007 with the introduction of Apple’s first iPhone. Although the iPhone was not the first phone to include a camera– Apple integrated an easy to use camera interface, with intuitive downloading as well as sharing tools. The smartphone ecosystem boomed quickly thereafter; manufacturers, tech companies, developers and end users all observed and embraced the value created by the integration of a mobile phone with a camera. Slow to adopt the change, Kodak filed chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012. Although it had developed its first phone incorporated with a digital camera in 2014, it had yet to recover.

Ultimately, it was not only Apple that captured the value created by the integration of the digital camera with a phone. The phone was now no longer “just a phone” but a device incorporated with the internet and many other potential features. An entire smartphone ecosystem- far beyond the use of a camera – has emerged with many winners, among them were other mobile manufacturers, content/info and services providers, access providers, app developers and the end users. [8]

In this post, I will primarily address the companies that captured value from the phone-camera integration.

The Smartphone Ecosystem [8]

More smartphones

After the introduction of Apple’s iPhone numerous manufacturers (Samsung, LG and others along with chip/processor manufacturers) introduced their own version of a smartphone thereby creating an entire market worth billions of dollars [9].  These days there is such variety that consumers select smartphones based on size, price, storage, screen resolution and other features. One of the key features that manufacturers compete on is the quality of camera. Megapixels, front camera, back camera, modes (such as portrait, panorama) etc. became key differentiators when an individual searched for his/her ideal phone[10]. Consumers were willing to spend their top dollar to purchase a phone with flawless photo-taking capabilities. Bloggers and thought leaders emerged in comparing and contrasting photos taken on different cameras and influence purchasing decisions.

Blog camera quality comparison [11]

Content info and services

Much is to be said about how content information and services benefited from the start-phone ecosystem such as Google, Netflix and more. Focusing on the camera related advances – YouTube for example was able to generate huge traction. Due to individuals taking photos and film all day long with their phone and the easy accessibility to upload those videos with a click of a button, content was influx. These days, every second, 7 hours of YouTube content is being uploaded to their servers and is watched a hundredfold more. [12]


With the introduction of cameras uploading and downloading content became an everyday task. Service providers such as Verizon, AT&T and others around the world became fundamental for the smartphone users, advancing their capabilities and services to support more megabytes and strong internet signal throughout the world, creating jobs and advancing technology.


Camera based apps- Google Translate [15]
By 2008, cameras became a standard part of smartphones – followed by the rise of mobile apps, an accessible platform for third-party picture sharing apps such as Facebook and Twitter to instantly share pictures from the device one took them on. Facebook, for example, launched in 2004 introduced its mobile app in 2007 [13] No longer were the days that you came back home after a long day to see what happened on your feed or with your ‘friends’ for just a few minutes, now you could take a photo in the middle of the day, upload, download and comment on others’ pictures throughout the day increasing time spent on the platform. Today there are numerous apps that benefit from the incorporated camera Twitter, Snap, Pinterest, Face-time to name a few. Moreover, there was a a new way of business and the launch of companies based on the smartphone’s camera: Tab, for example, enables you to take a photo of a bill at the end of a meal, digitalizes it and help split the tab easily. With SkinVision, users take photos of their moles or spots and analyzes them instantly. Goggle Translate and CamDictionary introduced a translator for those traveling to foreign countries and allows users to photograph text to be translated into various languages, apps that test a new haircut before you go to the salon and so many more [14]


Users are clear winners of this transformation, although some may argue that as a society, we have become addicted to out devices, no one can deny the fact that life has become much simpler and connected. With only one device we can talk and text whoever we need, we can share our location, pictures, even alert of risks and wrong doings we see around us.

What’s in store for the future?

With the integration of cameras and phones, an entire ecosystem emerged that was able to create and capture value estimated at trillions of dollars (and counting) around the world. Most traditional camera makers, namely Kodak, fell behind [16,17]. The smartphone ecosystem will continue to thrive with introduction of even more innovations both related (and not) to the incorporated camera on the phone. The success will largely depend on the ability of manufacturers to own customers’ moments and to use artificial intelligence to simplify the consumers’ experiences. Smartphones must also leverage web technologies in order to support experiences and enable more immersive experiences both inside and outside consumers’ homes.


[1] Brabant, Meghan. 2019. “A Brief Timeline Of The History Of Photography!”. Dickerman Prints – Your San Francisco Custom Photo Lab.
[2] “History Of Photography | Inventions & Events”. 2019. Encyclopedia Britannica.
[3] “History Of Photography”. 2019. En.Wikipedia.Org.
[4] “The History Of Photography – Nicephore Niepce House Photo Museum”. 2019. Nicephore Niepce House Photo Museum.
[5] “When Was The First Photo Taken? And What Was It A Photo Of? | Metro News”. 2019. Metro.Co.Uk.
[6] “Kodak”. 2019. En.Wikipedia.Org.
[7] “Explore The Major Advances In The History Of Photography”. 2019. The Spruce Crafts.
[8] “The Smartphone Ecosystem – Lab”. 2019. Lab.
[9] “Competing In Smartphones Demands More Than Great Hardware — You Need A Strong Ecosystem”. 2019. Forbes.Com.
[10]  Best Picks. 2019. “Best Smartphone Cameras 2019”. Tom’s Guide.,review-2272.html
[11]  “Iphone XS Vs. Galaxy Note 9: Why Apple’s Camera Wins”. Tom’s Guide.,review-5766.html.
[12] “Youtube – Every Second”. 2019. Everysecond.Io.
[13] “Timeline Of Facebook”. 2019. En.Wikipedia.Org.
[14] “11 Apps That Use Your Camera To Do Incredible Things”. 2019. Buzzfeed.
[15] “Google Translate ‘turns interpreter’ with voice function”, 2015. BBC News
[16] “Competing In Smartphones Demands More Than Great Hardware — You Need A Strong Ecosystem”, 2018. Forbes
[17] “The Future of Smartphones Is Less About the Phone, More About the Ecosystem”, 2017, HuffPost


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Student comments on The Rise of the Smartphone Ecosystem and Kodak’s Fall

  1. It is indeed interesting to see the expanded applications that make use of the camera like you mentioned like SkinVision, Facetime, Google Translate. Do you think one company or the other did better in providing better camera hardware or apps to the user than the others?
    There also remains the additional risk of security concerns with cameras that provides an avenue for value capture for firms.

    I agree with what you said about what’s in store for the future. I also wonder, if applications like the Eyeborg project could become so advanced that the camera, which is meant to provide additional data replaces our eyes due to its added benefits of clarity, precision, ability to record, etc.
    More on the Eyeborg project:

    Thank you for your post NR!

  2. Cool topic! I wonder if the high-end products will always be the first choice to professional photographers in the next couple years. Would they also shift to integrated cameras as opposed on using one dedicated device?

  3. Interesting post NR!
    I see the expansion of this ecosystem by other cool gadgets coming our way – like photography through drones and wearable camera. Intel is doing some interesting work on smart glasses (lie google glass). Though it’s not clear yet if they will focus on photography or tech in general.
    Blincam is one such startup building a product that can be attached to any eyegear and clicks a picture with a blink. More here:

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