Recently I read a Ynet article (HE) on the future of digital photography in light of growing presence of mobile phones with embedded cameras. The basic argument of the article is that the growing numbers of mobile phones with embedded cameras and the constant improvement of image quality produced by these cameras, are inevitably leading to extinction of photo-cameras as we know them.
To a degree this is a typical article trying to analyze technological trends with a deterministic flavor. However, what really surprised me is the way they build support for their argument. The support comes from analysts who suggest various numbers that are supposedly illustrate the point. For example they point at Nokia as the largest producer of digital cameras who went from producing 100 million mobile phones with embedded cameras in 2005, to 140 million in 2006, to 170 million in 2007. All is good, but how do we know if the people are buying the phones because of the camera or because of the phone? In fact, today it is really difficult to buy a phone without an embedded camera. I even got one for free.
Another example the analysts provide is that in 2006 there were 750 million users of mobile phone cameras and 500 million users of regular digital cameras; in 2009 they expect 3 billion users of mobile phone cameras and 1.3 billion users of regular digital cameras. One thing that isn’t clear to me is what constitutes a user. I may be an anomaly, but since i got my phone with embedded camera a year and a half ago, i took something like 20 pictures with it, most of which stayed in the phone and will probably remain there (and i am a picture freak taking probably at least 100 pictures a month). My guts feeling is that everyone who owns a mobile phone with embedded camera was considered a user for the purposes of this analysis. I think their argument could be stronger if they would actually refer to the usage patterns of the various types of cameras. Alternatively, and i wonder if this is feasible, it could be really interesting to estimate the actual number of pictures taken by mobile phone cameras vs. regular digital cameras.
So, the question I had in my mind after reading this article was a more general one about the role of market analysts. To what degree their role is analyzing the trends vs. setting them? Of course i am not doing justice to the cited analysts, because i have never seen their actual reports and I am sure these are more detailed compared to the highlights picked be the media. At the same time they are being used to propagate certain agenda and they don’t seem to object.
The analysts are in a privileged position compared to everybody else, for they are looked up to as experts and in this sense they do act as agenda setters, particularly when it comes to technology. I would even go further by saying that they are in a position to influence the frameworks we use to think about and interpret technology and innovation. Putting it in Giddens’ terms, they enjoy comparatively stronger agency and thus ability to shape the relevant structures, and the media here serve as an amplifying mechanism.
So, the question i am stuck with at the moment is to what extend market analysis is in fact aimed at analyzing trends and to what extend it is actually setting them. What do you think?