New Sony Camera Remote API Leaves Developers Wanting More

Mark Boyd, September 10th, 2013

Sony has released a Camera Remote API that allows for the creation of apps to control a camera’s functions via smart phone or tablet. The API is in beta version, and currently works with just four Sony camera models, although another four models are expected to provide compatibility as early as the end of September. Sony is only offering technical support to the Camera Developer Program in the US and Japan for the time being. Sony’s approach will be closely watched by other manufacturers looking to provide new Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity via APIs.

The Camera Remote API allows control of a Sony camera via any wifi mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet. The API allows a mobile device to be used as a second screen for real-time views from the camera lens, and can take control of the camera’s functions to shoot images, zoom, or operate the self-timer. However, at present, many other functions are not available via API.

The Sony Camera Remote API is currently compatible with the Action Cam HDR-AS30, Music video recorder HDR-MV1, and Digital still cameras Cyber-shot® DSC-QX100, DSC-QX10. Compatibility with the NEX-6, NEX-5R, NEX-5T will be available after 26 September. Compatibility with the HDR-AS15 will be made available after the camera’s core software is next upgraded, but no firm date for this is yet in place.

While the API documentation was only released on 3 September, developers are already using Sony’s developer forums to ask for more functionality in order to make both enterprise-tools and third party apps. The ability to use the API to browse and transfer images, to disable the pre-focusing camera feature, and to access many of the camera’s remote functions like white balance, ISO and shutter speed are top of the list for developers who warn “without them, there is little reason to use the API.” For example, without these features, the API currently doesn’t provide enough functionality to create an HDR Imaging app.

Founder of photo app Foundbite, James Mundy, has been working with camera and photo APIs for some time, and spoke to ProgrammableWeb about his initial thoughts on seeing the API documentation:

“Cameras have been very much the victim of the rise of mobile photography and it’s great to see camera manufacturers doing something new and innovative. As the site says, interacting with the API using JSON makes it accessible from any device and easy to use and it seems to give quite a bit of control over the key camera functions. It certainly has some great possibilities for apps wanting to add group/time-lapse functionality though it could be limited to usage where there are WiFi Networks as I can’t see any mention of WiFi direct or Bluetooth which would allow use away from the city.

It’s something I’m going to keep an eye out for, though I’d say there aren’t enough of the compatible Sony cameras available at the moment to warrant the development time – a sentiment that I think will be shared by other developers, though might make a cool hack for a hackathon. It’d be nice to see other manufacturers develop similar APIs, I could imagine photo journalists might be interested in immediately uploading their photos via their phone and adding captions – if they can’t do this already.”

The availability of the API and the developer community response demonstrates the tricky road ahead facing many technology providers who may be looking at releasing remote APIs as part of their move to enable an Internet of Things connected ecosystem.

On the one hand, manufacturers need to act iteratively, opening up access methodically to ensure that security risks and deployment issues can be monitored amongst initial API use. GIven the complexities around wifi-enabled IoT approaches, a slower, steadier approach may prevent end-user customer frustration that sees them return their things and give up on connectivity all together.

On the other hand, developers may represent an entrepreneurial mindset that will want to leap straight to a complex vision of what is possible if full access is made available via an API. Their demands may be unrealistic for the short-term, or their requests could represent core use cases that apply to real world scenarios. In order to build a developer community and grow an ecosystem around its products, Sony will need to learn how to balance developer expectations with a sustainable schedule that regularly adds to the API features.

Currently, the possibilities of an IoT connected world are almost paralyzed from manifesting because of this disconnect between taking iterative steps and the perceived new world we will all live in when the technology is mainstream. How a large technology manufacturer like Sony continues to implement an API strategy to open up connected access to its hardware products (i.e. to “things” like its range of cameras) may become a business exemplar of how to take a stepwise approach, or a cautionary tale in what not to do.

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