Chinese smart phones producer BBK rumored to start using Nikon Expeed image processor in their devices

The Chinese mobile phone producer BBK Electronics is rumored to announce a new Vivo phablet equipped with 20MP camera (1/1.7" sensor), fast f/2.0 lens and Expeed image processor:

"The professional image processing chip used is Nikon's Expeed E1-158 1051 200 M, which could be a slightly modified version of the old Expeed 3 ARM processor introduced in 2011 with the Nikon 1 series mirrorless cameras." (source)

I do not remember Nikon making any official announcements about this joint venture. Maybe Nikon is experimenting to get into the smart phone market by supplying high end image processors? There were rumors that the next Nexus 5 phone will have a Nikon camera module inside.

Nikon's executives recently raised their concerns on the increasing smart phone market share and shrinking compact camera market. Nikon is currently working on a secret products that will be available in less than 5 years.

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  • Now, THAT would be an underwhelming develpment!

  • Mike

    If phone companies are adding cameras, why can’t camera companies add phones? When I heard in 2004/5 (?) that Apple was entering the phone market I laughed. When I heard search engine giant Google was entering the phone software business, I laughed (back when BB was top of the heap). With Nikon possibly entering the mix, maybe I won’t laugh. I could see Nikon doing a Sony with a wifi camera module for cell phones. Or expanding on their Android based camera. Who knows? What the heck, do it.

    • Thom Hogan

      Well, Nikon would be one of the last to enter a hugely competitive market in which we now have some very notable BIG failures (Nokia, Blackberry). Here in the US they’d need to negotiate with and support four different service providers. But the big killer is this: they’d be buying the same parts as everyone else, so what’s the big win for a Nikon design over those? Software? Yeah, they’re really good at that…cough.

      If this rumor is true, then Nikon seems to be following the strategy I suggested several years ago: Nikon Inside. It’s simpler, quicker, keeps the brand name in front of the masses, and reuses a lot of what they already have done (e.g. the EXPEED processor).

      • Sahaja

        Perhaps Nikon have decided to use using part of their CoolPix or Nikon 1 manufacturing plants in China- which must be lying partly idle – to make camera modules for smart phones and tablets. As you say then we might have a “Nikon Inside” label on our next Chinese made smart phone or tablet.

      • If only they’d license the exposure matrix metering code, something that would be of actual benefit to a phone camera… but yeah… let somebody else do the implementation.

      • Andrew

        …and more profit! Intellectual property licensing is even better than trying to enter every market niche with Nikon cameras. Nokia’s intellectual property is said (source: WSJ) to be worth $6 billion. Microsoft will pay $2 billion for a 10 year license. Now historically, we have viewed Nikon as an insular company, maybe they are gradually coming to the realization that Sony’s camera division is depositing a bucket load of cash with every iPhone sold.

        • Thom Hogan

          You need two things to make significant money from IP. First, you need IP that can’t be obtained elsewhere. To my knowledge, Nikon does not have that. Second, you need a high unit volume by the licensee. BBK isn’t likely that licensee.

          The top “per phone” license I know of is actually Microsoft’s, which is charging a lot of Android makers in the neighborhood of US$10 a phone for a huge bundle of critical technologies that are essential to producing the product. Find a maker that’s producing 10m phones a year and you have US$100m in revenue. Which would still be marginal in terms of impacting Nikon’s overall results. And they don’t have that critical set of technologies, nor do they have a licensee that will ship 10m phones that we know of.

          As for “profit,” you can’t really assess that without looking at the development costs. Sure, there’s virtually no “product” cost in licensing, but if it cost you US$1b to develop all those technologies and you’ve getting US$100m a year, it’ll be 10 years before you have payback.

          When I suggested to Nikon to take the “Nikon Inside” route, it wasn’t for revenue/profit purposes. It was because once compacts disappear you need something that keeps your brand name in front of the consumer. You want people to associate a good experience with the consumer device they bought with the possibility of experience should they need a higher end device (standalone camera) some day.

          But you’d also want to pick licensees that have a halo factor of their own (e.g. a top, growing player like Apple rather than a player going downward such as Blackberry). The problem for Nikon is this:

          Apple: going it alone so far, and doing a decent job of it
          Microsoft: now owns Nokia, which already has Zeiss Inside
          Samsung: clearly going to do it themselves just as soon as someone shows them the winning formula
          Sony: clearly doing it themselves already

          In terms of big, visible phone players, there aren’t a lot of possible licensees at this point unless you could come up with something completely disruptive. Because there’s so much money in the smartphone market, the bar is being raised very rapidly there. Nikon is getting there late with too little is my guess.

          • Sahaja

            There are a couple of pretty big Chinese smart phone companies seriously trying to become players in markets outside China. I suppose being able to put “Nikon inside” on those phones might help.

          • Andrew

            You have raised some good points, but my guess is that one overlooked fact is the size of the Chinese market. It is a market where if Nikon hits the right vein may result in hundreds of millions of devices being supported by their intellectual property. I do not know enough about the market to elucidate how this might happen, but a few clues are surfacing – vis-a-vis Alibaba’s collaboration with domestic cell phone makers (Search: Alibaba releases smartphones by Chen Yang). I see these companies working with the likes of Nikon than Samsung for obvious reasons. Nikon’s image processor, optics, and overall engineering expertise could be a tremendous asset lower end cell phone manufacturers trying to appeal to the masses while defending their turf from encroachment by the brand name companies cell phone companies.

            I think we are seeing some early signs that Nikon is transforming itself as a company. They released a party camera – the S1000pj Camera with a built-in projector, then an Android camera – the S800c, and now the new Nikon 1 Aw1 underwater camera. About 1 year ago, a senior executive voiced Nikon’s decision to accelerate their product release timeline. And now we are hearing word that the EXPEED processor will be used in third party devices. I remembers many years ago when Nikon reshuffled their top executives because they were falling behind in their conversion to digital cameras and needed to become more aggressive. They soon closed the gap with their main competitor and in some areas jumped ahead.

            Now I think a lot of Nikon’s resources were used in developing the core technologies for the Nikon 1 and coming out with a lot of camera models in the past year, not to mention recovering from two major environment events -impacting Japan and Thailand. I think moving forward, and being freed from major product releases or logistical issues to restart their factories, Nikon will now turn its attention into doing a lot more of the EXPEED type deals.

            No doubt Nikon is aware of the impact of smartphone on the camera market. But of equal importance to them is the pronouncements by Sony about a year ago that they plan to capture a greater segment of the camera market. Being sandwiched between these two forces (i.e. Smartphones and Sony) will cause anyone, even the most insular company, to change his ways. So who knows, Nikon may be heeding to your advise in ways you least expected!

            • Thom Hogan

              “Digitimes Research projects that many of China’s best known smaller
              brands such as Xiaomi, TCL, Gionee, Tianyu, Oppo and BBK will see
              shipments of no more than a few million handsets.”

              The big players are already there, already have strong demand and growth, and will be tough to dislodge except via price. This is the tale of most tech markets: you need to be fully established when the up growth cycle hits, because eventually the growth/size attracts all players and everyone races to the bottom in terms of commoditization. This is the same thing that happened with compact cameras. Early on, Sony, Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and Fujifilm saw fast growth, and that attracted at its peak over 60 “serious” players. Olympus and Fujifilm weren’t able to hang onto market share. And besides the market racing to the bottom on pricing, it also peaked in terms of sales. This is a very common pattern in tech. It’s now happening in smartphones, too, which is one reason why the analysts who understand this were betting against Nokia, Microsoft, Blackberry, and others. It’s tough to beat Android’s pricing and ease of development, it’s just as tough to beat Apple’s high-end execution. And if you pick the Android route, you’re competing against dozens of others that picked the same choice and you have the differentiation problem.

              I’ll repeat, EXPEED-type deals won’t save Nikon. Even if they made US$1 from EVERY smartphone sold in China it wouldn’t make up for the Coolpix collapse that’s coming. Moreover, if EXPEED is really the core of Nikon’s technologies and you make it available to others, you end up competing with yourself.

              The interesting thing is that all the things I laid out in my presentation to Nikon executives in 2010 are playing out pretty much as I said they would. But the core point I was trying to make had more to do with the need to save the right part of their “camera” business by disrupting it before it became another drag on the company. This is the thing that scares me about no D400 and a modest D610 and D5300 push forward. Nikon’s fighting a rearguard action at the moment. In tech, that doesn’t tend to do much for you. Sometimes it doesn’t even buy you time.

            • Andrew

              You presented some good arguments, but there are further things to consider. The race to the bottom cannot continue unabated. At some point the big players will leave the battlefield. Both Dell and HP have made major strategic moves away from the PC market and into the software services business. The mobile Android tablet is headed downwards, towards the $50 to $60 price point, as some notable brand named company are already selling 7″ Android devices for $99. The Chinese masses have a penchant for low cost products. In 2012, China’s per capita GDP was $6,100, whereas the US was $40,000 (Source: Wikipedia). So the economic reality for the Chinese, coupled with the low cost producers willingness to operate at little to no profit will still present an opportunity for “Nikon Inside” based computing products.

              Now, in as much as the camera has scaled down to the cell phones, it is also scaling up to the 7″ Android tablets dual built-in cameras – front and back facing – with a potential market of hundreds of millions a year in China and further such numbers in Africa. Think about it, Panasonic licenses Leica optics, Sony licenses Carl Zeiss, etc. So “Nikon Inside” can be used for low cost cameras, cell phones, tablet PCs, etc. And I do not see this eroding the Nikon brand. Think about it, though we have the Nikon COOLPIX cameras, they have not dampened enthusiasm for their DSLR cameras nor lowered the company’s brand in professional photographic equipment. When you buy a COOLPIX, you know you are making a compromise. But the potential to take a more desirable picture with a COOLPIX is much greater than with a cell phone, not to mention the zoom advantage. I recently bought a Panasonic 60X super zoom camera with an awesome 120X extended zoom range in spite of its smaller sensor. The alternative is to buy an $18,000 Nikon zoom lens. This is a convergence camera between a binocular and a telescope. My point is that people the world over are going to make practical decisions and Nikon should be well positioned when the masses in the developing world who are first introduced to photography via cell phones decide that it is time to move up. I would not want my photographer to show up at my wedding with a “damn” cell phone and neither would those in the so called developing nations.

            • Thom Hogan

              I agree. The smart players who want long term businesses and high margins will tend to leave a tanking product category long before it hits the bottom. While they may have pricing advantage due to volume, at some point the margin erodes too much for them.

              Android, in particular, is accelerating tablet and smartphone race to the bottoms, as entering the market is easy (software already mostly done for you) and the cost of that is low (basically a few per unit taxes to pay to Microsoft and a few others). If cameras really go this route (Android-based), watch out. All it would really take to enter the market would be money at that point. There’s plenty of money floating around SE Asia, and plenty of companies willing to take the plunge.

              But I’m still not convinced that there’s real dollars in the licensing route for Nikon. Nikon, is, after all, a US$9.7b a year company, of which US$7.6b was from cameras and lenses. IIRC the Chinese smartphone market was a bit over 100m units last year. A US$1 a unit royalty on a subset of that isn’t going to make much impact. And it WILL be a subset at best, as too many of the market leaders already have camera decisions locked down. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Nikon shouldn’t pursue such opportunities, but it’s not the revenue that’s important, it’s the branding for eventual camera sales that is.

    • arrrr32

      What I would really like is a DSLR that ran Andriod with the camera settings as an app. Obviously it wouldn’t run lots of normal andriod apps but a huge number of them would and having programmatic access to a DSLR with all its features on a platform with a huge set of dev tools and existing apps would be a huge benefit.

      • Sahaja

        Well Android was originally intended as a camera operating system before Google got hold of it.

  • DonD

    Yes, but will in also integrate the Nikon 70-200 2.8?

  • koenshaku

    Does Nikon design their own Expeed processors?

    • Nikon’s Expeed processors are modified fujitsu Milbeaut processors, which are build on the ARM architecture.

      Milbeaut processors also power the Leica M.

      • koenshaku

        Ah I see interesting

  • Jon Ingram

    Good luck Nikon. Hopefully they will be able to expand into this niche.

  • Morgan Glassco

    Toss is a xenon flash and that would be an awesome device

  • R!


    • Nikon CEO

      Why does Nikon not make a medium format line at sane price? With lens and all….

      • Mike

        Or even a digital back. I asked someone at Nikon and MF is too niche they say. But imagine…. A 16 or 24 or 36 mp FX sensor upscaled to MF size… with it’s ISO capabilities…. it would be revolutionary.

        • Sahaja

          Nikon doesn’t manufacture image sensors – they’d have to get MF image sensors manufactured by someone.

      • Sahaja

        Pentax already tried this with the 645D and Leica with the S2.

        I don’t know that either are selling all that well.

        Who knows Fuji might make a medium format X camera one day – but I can’t see Nikon doing it.

        • Domg

          Really…. Hallelblad is actually made by Sony? wow… at $15K plus….

          • Sahaja

            Hasselblad medium format cameras and lenses are made by Fuji.

            I was referring to the the Hasselblad Luna which is a rebadged NEX and the Hasselblad Stellar which a rebadged RX100

  • D600

    I see, is that year 2020?

  • Eric Calabos

    1/1.7 inch? same size as P7800 sensor?
    I dunno how much profit they hope to gain with chip-selling to cheap-phone makers that justifies cannibalizing their own high end Coolpix. Yes there is no optical zoom, but in connectivity, will be better than any compact camera Nikon is making

  • Spy Black

    Gotta start somewhere.

  • dra

    So nikon will provide the sensor that they also buy from sony/aptina/toshiba?
    Or maybe just the expeed, that is pretty much a fujitsu Milbeaut. I hope at least they won`t buy the lens from Sigma and sell it with nikon name….wait CheapSung name.

    • Sahaja

      They are probably just buying the Fujitsu image processing chip chip like Nikon, Leica, Pentax, Sigma and others do.
      Or maybe Nikon has a boatload of their Expeed variants left over from CoolPix cameras they decided not to make

  • robert

    how about they first work on QC for their current products first?

    • Rob

      Because they have done all the work on this already, they’ll probably get somebody else to make it and Nikon gets the profit.

  • Nikon

    Very very clever nikon!!! Too bad its an unknown chinese manufacturer rather than someone like Blackberry who is also in a funk.

    • Collaborating with blackberry would be tying an anchor around its neck. Build a nikon 1 or mirrorless DX that can dock an iphone or galaxy s4 with a decent app and api with at least one true pancake prime (and still be pocketable) and you’ve got a shot.

      The mass camera market is pretty much toast (and smartphone cameras are a business, but a comparatively small one — how much money is sony making off the hundreds of millions of iphone cameras it’s made?)

      Who the hell wants a nikon image processor on their smart phone when they already have a faster cpu that runs the same instruction set?

  • StarF

    Vivo is chasing HiFi & High photo quality in their flagship headphones, good luck.

  • speedeebe

    I read a long time ago, that Google was working with Nikon for their next model’s nexus. (for the camera module)

  • martin

    The fact they would use the same processor does not mean it is running Nikon firmware.

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