Here’s one scenario:
You’re driving around and at a red light you hear the terrifying sound of brakes and tires squealing. You hear the crunch of two cars behind you and a fraction of a second later you feel the impact of the car behind you hitting your car. You know exactly what this is. A car rear-ended the car which rear-ended you. You’re a part of a “three car pile up”.
You and the driver behind you get out to assess the damage. As you’re looking around, the first car which caused the accident tears off, fleeing the scene. You’ve got to think and act quickly. Did you see the license plate? Is your phone handy? Could you take a picture?
This exact situation happened to me about a year ago. Sadly, by the time I was able to pull up a camera app, All I could capture was a blurry image of a vehicle more than a block away. Try it yourself. How quickly can you pull up the camera on your phone? Be honest, from pocket to taking a picture. How fast?
I keep a pattern lock on my phone. The fastest I can manage on my Android handsets is still about ten seconds, and that’s only if my phone is already on its home screen where I keep a shortcut to my camera app. Ten seconds when I know what’s going on and trying as hard as I can to open my camera app as quickly as possible. Ten seconds might not seem like a lot, but when you’re trying to capture a moment, you’re almost guaranteed to miss it.
Ironically, phones which have lockscreen shortcuts to apps like the camera aren’t that much faster in getting to the camera after unlocking the phone. In a pressure filled situation, you still need to unlock the phone.
Its been my least favorite aspect of the current trend in Android phone design. This desire to get away from buttons and make our gadgets as sleek as possible. For many people, the cameras built into our phones are major selling points. Why not highlight that with direct access to one of the features we use most often?
Windows Phone actually stands as a high water mark in this arena. Microsoft dictates that all Windows Phone handsets must have dedicated camera buttons. This button acts as a shortcut to the camera app, and while in the camera app it allows you to focus and take a picture like you would on a point and shoot camera. On most Windows Phones, you’re able to activate the camera while the screen is off by long pressing the camera button. On my AT&T Lumia 920 this will even bypass the lock screen. You can’t do anything else on the phone, but you wont have to put in an unlock pin code to activate the camera.
Time from pocket to taking first pic? Less than three seconds. No thought. Just hold the button down.
This is a safety feature which should be ranked up there with making emergency calls. Out of some notion of pleasing aesthetics however this is a hardware feature which has practically died out. If wearable computing heads up displays like Google Glass become vogue, we might see this accessibility return with voice commands, but in the meantime fast camera access will be relegated to niche phone ecosystems or proprietary plugins and shortcuts.