About 10 years ago I was talking to a salesman in a Hi-Fi shop about the 'new' "7 channel " surround sound system and asked him why we need 7 channels . He replied that we may not actually 'need' it , but as long as the technology is available people will utilize it .
And that's about the way it is today with digital cameras . We can do a lot with a basic camera but the manufacturers need to sell their products and compete with one another , which is good for us actually because it means better products at competitive prices . But this often results in new 'gimmicks' that none of really need - but help to bias someone's decision when buying a new camera .
Let's take face detection as an example . How many professional photographers thought we needed that !? Then it progressed to profile-face detection , multiple face detection , smile detection , blink detection ..... all these extra 'features' to make the 'old' technology seem outdated and redundant so we want to upgrade .
So where will this take us ? It's not too hard to work out what possibilities there are for the future no matter how ridiculous they may sound - manufacturers need to give people a reason to upgrade or make their products our first purchase .
GPS linked internet mode . With the ability to track where a photograph was taken built in to some cameras this may become 'standard' eventually as the manufacturers struggle to keep up as well as compete with each other . There are many "modes" available in compact cameras , beach , snow , museum , fireworks .......
Now imagine if there was the option of just one "auto smart location" [ASL] mode to save granny having to learn how to use her camera .
When compacts are permanently connected to the internet , along with built in GPS all tied in with google-earth the new smart location mode will be able to detect where you are , whether you are inside or outside a building , work out whether you are at the beach or in the snow - if there is actually snow at that time of the year , what time it is ........ a quick automatic internet search on 'events' in the area along with a program of the event - and next thing you know the camera has selected fireworks mode because it is 9 pm and that is when the fireworks display starts and according to the stored information you have been waiting in that area for half an hour -after you spent 45 minutes in the cafe' and the camera orientation sensor shows it is on a tripod pointing in the direction of the field where the display will be held ...... not impossible to conceive is it ?
Or it might check your location and determine that you are in a museum and turn off all sounds and flash .....
Most of us don't want or need that kind of automation but the newer [and older] generation will embrace it .
The built in program and internet connection could work out that you are on the beach - a weather search could show that it is a clear sunny day and the orientation sensor could detect that you are pointing the camera slightly upwards at someone on the wharf next to you , as it has checked the location with google-earth , the 'content aware' program has detected the wharf which would be easier than face-detection [it will have read its description from a map as well] , and provide the exact compensation for the bright sky the meter will detect in the background .
It will be able to work out the position of the sun at that time of the day along with the direction you are pointing the camera and make the appropriate adjustments .
As it examines past images from google earth it will be able to determine the colour and reflectivity of the beach sand , some beaches have black sand and normal 'beach mode' would give incorrect results if an ill-informed beginner selects that mode in such a case . ASL mode will not be fooled by the fact that it is on a beach according to the GPS - it will have done its homework as soon as it was turned on and realized that the sand was still dark and it would know that it wouldn't need to increase exposure compensation .
Once it has determined its settings for the location and weather the live-view will be able to analyze the subject you are photographing . My Casio FH100 has an 'enter scene' mode that detects movement and takes pictures when something happens . It wouldn't be too hard to take that a step further and allow the camera to analyze the scene that is unfolding before it . It could lock-on to the stationery subjects , work out how much granny's hand is shaking , calculate the speed that the grand-kids are running at and then select a suitable shutter speed . If it detects no movement it would adjust accordingly and perhaps choose a smaller aperture considering the subject is most likely a landscape image .
Many compact now have automatic "help"[?] tips that show up on the screen . Imagine if you are photographing the afternoon sun going down , an internet search suggests that there is light rain in the area
but it is clear in the area where the sun is going down - a quick calculation regarding the angle of the sun and direction the camera is actually pointing ..... and the screen gives a beep and pops up on the display " Check for Rainbows behind you " ..... now when all their models of one brand are interlinked and registering "clicks" from other cameras around you there may even be an alert on the screen " something interesting happening 1km away " .
But there's also the possibility of something new that professionals might actually like .
The Nikon D300 came out with a networking capability so that perhaps 5 cameras could be wirelessly linked at an event so images could pop up on a laptop display as they are taken .
Imagine a serious photo-shoot , perhaps a wedding or news-worthy event . Many pro cameras have dual card slots so you can have back-up in case one card fails and loses all your images . Along with the wireless internet possibility imagine if your images could constantly be uploading at their full file size to the internet while you are photographing an event - your computer could be on at home busy downloading them at the same time . If needed your assistant could be busy processing those images while you are shooting and either sending them back to your camera for approval or preparing them for a slide-show of the days pictures at the wedding reception or racing event .
As with the internet itself these changes can and will introduce many problems of their own - that's what technology is all about though :)
They will have to make sure you are not in the middle of something important when the screen pops up " new firmware download available- start download ? " .