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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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App or crApp?

11 December 2020

I review RC products.

More often than not these days, those RC products rely on increasingly complex electronics, microcontrollers and computery bits.

Whether it's a flight controller that not only stabilises the flight of a model but also acts as an autopilot, or something as fundamentally simple as a camera, many of these bits of kit require configuration, adjustment or control by way of an external human interface.

While a very few of these devices come with a little box replete with buttons, a screen and the requisite cables, a lot more of them now rely on you having a smartphone and the relevant app.

Such a simple concept. What a shame it is so often flawed in its implementation.

Right now I'm reviewing, or should I say "supposed to be reviewing" a new camera that has been specially designed for RC model and drone use.

This camera is small, lightweight (just 30g) and capable of delivering astounding 5K digital video recordings.

It could be the perfect tool for getting the sort of stunning aerial video and stills we associate with drone use these days.

Unfortunately, in order to simply configure this camera's many options, you need an Android or IOS smartphone or tablet.

Not a problem, of course.

I now have an array of such devices, even though my "daily drive" phone is a flip-phone with virtually no smarts. In order to review the growing number of app-dependent devices, I've invested in a separate generic 4-core smartphone and a couple of Lenovo tablets (7-inch and 10-inch). Although the phone runs an older verson of Android, the tablets are pretty up to date in this regard.

Even the 7-inch tablet is more than capable of running the quite complex app that I use to remotely control my new $3,000 Panasonic 4K "prosumer" camcorder. That app allows me to control all the manual features of the Panasonic including focus, gain, shutter speed, zoom, F-stop, etc. That's one complex app but it works just fine on the Lenovo.

So I downloaded the app associated with this new $300 drone/model camera and proceeded to install it.

Or should I say "try to install it".

"App not installed" was the result.

Eh?

I tried again on the smartphone... same result.

I tried again on the other (bigger) tablet... same result.

Thinking there may have been something wrong with the build of the app I downloaded I contacted the manufacturer of the camera and asked for help.

"Sorry, you'll need a 'flagship' phone or tablet" was the response.

Excuse me?

I need a $1,500 to $2,000 phone simply to change some basic settings on a $300 camera?

"Yes"

Suffice to say, the review of this camera will come with quite a significant warning to those who do not have a "flagship" smartphone.

What marketing genius decided on this strategy?

As I said earlier, the smart devices I have work with probably more than a dozen other cameras, including my main studio camera and I've never had a problem... until now.

What is it about this app that requires the latest octo-core SOC with a gazillion GB of RAM and a clock speed measured in terahertz -- just to change some simple settings?

Well no, apparently they've decided that the app should do everything but make tea and coffee. The app consists of a full video editor, converters, stabilizers and just about everything you'd find in a full-blown desktop editing system such as the one I use now to craft my videos from the raw footage I shoot.

WHY?

Whilst I'm sure some folk might like the ability to do all this on a smartphone, others most definitely will not. Where is the "lite" app for them that will even run on a potato for when you just want to change from 1080p to 4K recording?

Nope. If you want to change the recording resolution on this $300 camera you must have a $2,000 smartphone.

Unbelievable.

However, I checked out what people have to say about a very similar "all singing, all dancing" action-camera app that requires a "flagship smartphone" to run and it seems that other such audacious attempts to build *everything* intoan app have also been doomed to failure.

What a shame that such a great little camera is crippled by stupid marketing decisions that effectively remove a huge chunk of the market from qualification as a customer.

Have you ever bought a great product that was crippled by reliance on a crappy app?

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