Android apps make Nikon’s Coolpix S800c a smarter digital camera

You can’t call Nikon’s newest digital camera a smartphone, but it does run Google Android(s goog) and includes built-in radios for Wi-Fi and GPS. About the only thing missing from the Coolpix S800c is cellular voice calling, or else it could be considered a smartphone: One with a 16 megapixel camera sensor and 10x optical zoom, that is. More important is the integration of mobile imaging apps and how Android can make a camera smarter.

The Coolpix S800c looks like a traditional digital camera you’d see priced at $349. Measuring at 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.1 inches, it’s small enough to fit in a pocket. The focal range is equivalent to a 25 to 250 millimeter lens with the telescoping optical zoom, which can be supplemented with a 4x digital zoom. And the camera supports 1080p video recording as well. For all intents and purposes, this looks like any other comparable digital point-and-shoot. Until you look at the back.

A 3.5-inch OLED touchscreen doubles as both the viewfinder and a place to run Android 2.3. Don’t bemoan the version of Android though: This isn’t meant to replace a smartphone or tablet that runs the latest version of Android. Instead, Google’s platform is meant to enable faster photo uploads to the web, provide third-party editing apps and simple sharing of photos to social networking sites. Nikon is also including support for its own photo sharing site called MyPictureTown.

This is what makes the s800c interesting: With Android integration, Wi-Fi and access to the Google Play store, people who buy the camera have more freedom and choice when it comes to picking an photo app. There’s no need to buy great camera hardware only to be disappointed in the manufacturer’s limited software implementation if the market goes this way. The app is what enables a greater range of choice for how photographers want to view their images as well as how — and where — they want others to view them as well.

Adding Wi-Fi to digital cameras has been a solid progression, but including support for third-party phone applications is a true forward-thinking move by Nikon. Mobile app freedom has helped smartphones become highly customizable and widely adopted tools and I think Nikon is on to something big here.┬áSure, smartphones can run apps and often have good camera features, but a good point-and-shoot is still likely to take better photos. Add in apps and connectivity and you’ve got a picture perfect camera.