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The Good and Bad of Nikon's Software for Android and iOS

Nikon's current software offerings for Android and iOS include some high points and low points. Here's my take on things.

Nikon Manual Viewer - Download manuals
Nikon Manual Viewer
Download manuals

Nikon Manual Viewer - Thumbnail view
Nikon Manual Viewer
Thumbnail view

Nikon Image Space
Nikon Image Space is a photo sharing and online storage service run by Nikon. It's actually a rebranded and retooled version of their initial foray into online picture sharing, originally dubbed myPicturetown. The change actually took place back in January 2013 but if you hadn't heard about it, don't worry. In an online world filled with sites like 500px and Flickr, to say nothing of Facebook and other more generalized social media sites, a new photo sharing site is clearly up against stiff competition. The original myPicturetown started as an add-on feature bundled with Nikon consumer cameras in an attempt to foster brand loyalty and perceived value.

MyPicturetown has been around since 2007. When launched, Nikon lauded it as being the only photo sharing and storage site created by a camera manufacturer. It was never clear to me why that mattered, but I suppose the implication is one of exclusivity. Nikon shooters with Wi-Fi enabled cameras could upload images directly from their cameras but other Nikon users could access the site directly via a web browser or dedicated mobile apps on Blackberry (yes, Blackberry) and other mobile phones. An iPhone/iOS version followed in 2012.

But myPicturetown never really caught on, and Nikon is hoping the rebranded site will see more success. This time around, there are improved app versions for both iOS and Android available on the respective Appstore marketplaces. And Nikon Image Space will involve more than just a name change and broader mobile support. Unlike myPicturetown, the new site will be open to Nikon users as well as users of cameras from other brands.

This puzzles me somewhat, but then Nikon's quixotic attempt to compete in the photo sharing world puzzles me too. I'm not sure why they need to do this at all. In a way, this reminds me of Nikon's curious attempt to market Nikon Capture NX as a photo editing site for users of all camera brands. Canon does have their Image Gateway sharing and storage service, which so far as I know is restricted to just Canon owners. But many users and their families collectively have cameras from multiple brands and it would seem preferable to foster an open integration to generalized sharing sites like Flickr and 500px. I know companies strive to broaden their reach, but Nikon simply can't win this battle any more than they could the photo editing competition against Adobe and other companies. In the end, Nikon and Nik Software (who helped build Capture NX) parted ways and now Capture NX (now renamed as Capture NX-D) has begun its slow death with loyal users jumping ship to Lightroom. There's no telling what the future holds for Nikon Image Space, but Nikon's track record as a software maker doesn't set a good precedent.

Manual Viewer 2
This offering from Nikon impresses me much more than does Nikon Image Space. Nikon Manual Viewer 2 does exactly what its name implies. You can download manuals for a broad array of current and relatively current Nikon gear and view them on your mobile device. Digital bodies go all the way back to the venerable D100. The only film body looks to be the flagship F6. Speedlight flash manuals are also available as are consumer (Coolpix) camera and manuals for a limited number of accessories. I don't see any lens manuals available at this point. There's a huge back library of Nikon PDF manuals available for download on Nikon's website but it isn't clear if they'll invest the effort to convert them to the Manual Viewer format.

Only by searching online did I discover that there ever was a Nikon Viewer version 1. Apparently, it did indeed exist at least as far back as 2012 but ran on iOS only and looks to have been little more than a brand-specific PDF viewer. The new version is reasonably well indexed and cross-linked to facilitate easy use on a phone on tablet. I have previously downloaded the PDF manuals but they simply don't fit well on smaller screens.

When you first launch the program, it guides you through selecting and downloading the manuals you want to access. The program itself is just the reader. There doesn't appear to be any way to download manuals outside the program but I had little difficulty in downloading over Wi-Fi. The manuals themselves are still formatted as page images that match the traditional paper versions, but display is clear and zooming in and out works smoothly. If I rotate my phone to landscape mode the text does not reflow to fit the wider display but instead switches to a 2-up facing page view. That seems a reasonable compromise but I'd love it if the text would automatically adjust to the screen aspect ratio the way a Kindle display does. This isn't a huge problem though since the Manual Viewer experience is still a huge step up from native PDF phone reading.

My only real gripe about Manual Viewer 2 is that the downloaded manuals can't be relocated to an SD card and must live in internal memory. Newer phones have considerably more built-in memory than did older phones, but these manuals aren't small. Most DSLR manuals will fill up a good 20 MB each. As a point of comparison, the PDF manual versions seem to run a few megabytes larger still. I'm glad I can now delete the PDF manuals from my phone.

WirelessMobileUtility
Nikon's Wireless Mobile Utility allows Android and iOS users to wirelessly connect to cameras featuring built-in Wi-Fi adapters as well as cameras that support one of the Nikon wireless adapters such as the WU-1a. Users can remotely take pictures and download the results to their phones. The functionality is rather limited, but I'm not aware of any better options that work over Wi-Fi. If you're OK with a USB connection, Helicon Remote and others offer a great deal more. Nikon's own Camera Control Pro 2 software is another option, but it runs on Windows only. There's no OS X version let alone Android or iOS. And it too requires a USB connection.

Nikon and others are experimenting with cameras driven by the Android operating system, and the cameras built into newer mobile phones running both operating systems are becoming increasingly capable. As more photographers integrate mobile devices into their daily lives and workflow, Android and iOS software will likely continue to proliferate and evolve. Sounds good to me.

You can find download links for Nikon's mobile offerings on the app stores here:


Date posted: September 7, 2014

 

Copyright © 2014 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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