The iPod of film cameras

Recently, companies like Intel and Harman have been using QNX technology to demonstrate the slick graphics capabilities of their new products. Take, for example, this 3D navigation system, which runs on the Intel Atom and which uses QNX’s implementation of the OpenGL ES 3D API:

All of these graphics demos got me thinking, naturally enough, about user-interface design. And that got me thinking, surprisingly enough, about the Olympus Infinity Stylus Epic.

Have you ever used an Epic? It’s a low-priced, well-built, waterproof 35mm camera with a talent for rocket photography. And here's the best part: It’s much smaller than its name.

From a usability perspective, the Epic embodied the “less is more” philosophy years before the iPod Classic made its debut on a drawing board. Like the iPod Classic, it has a simple user interface (you just push the damn button) and it can fit into your smallest pocket — or rocket. And like the iPod, it performs its job extremely well.

For evidence, consider the photo below, shot with my trusty Epic. If the plane looks unfamiliar, it’s an Avro Arrow, a 1950s-era Canadian interceptor capable of Mach 2. If you’re familiar with the Arrow, you’ll have already guessed that the plane in the photo isn’t real, but a large-scale model — the last real Arrow was scrapped in 1959. (BTW, the young fellow adding drama to the shot is my son.)

Replica of Avro Arrow, Barry’s Bay, Ontario.
Supporting pedestal removed in PhotoShop.

To return to my point, combining the right amount of functionality with an intuitive user interface is nirvana for device developers. Apple found the sweet spot, and so did Olympus. Achieving this combination is tough, though. It takes daring and a solid feel for what your customers will buy, along with right HMI technology.

What about you? Do you have a favorite device that strikes a perfect balance of functionality, usability, and affordability? Have you built one?


Olympus sold a huge number of Epics over the years. But recently, it stopped manufacturing the camera, likely because it shoots film. C'est la vie.

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