I stumbled around the Internets to see just how far off base I might have been with regards to my opinion regarding Canon's mirrorless entry. It looks like not far, but I was a bit over-the-top, perhaps, with my uninformed opinion. Just a bit.
Of all the opinions I've read so far, I believe Thom Hogan's post "Welcome, Canon. Seriously" pretty much hit on all the right points. Or right on the few he covered, which were the important ones. His post got me to really thinking about not just Canon's entry, but why it entered the market with the EOS-M.
Why Now?Two reasons. First, Because Canon had no other choice. Canon is the largest camera manufacturer in the world, both in terms of gross sales and DSLRs. In 2010, the last year I can get statistics, overall Canon sold over twice as much as Nikon. But here's the funny part; Canon barely beat Nikon in DSLR sales. And here's the not-so-funny part: compared to what their sales numbers were in 2008, Canon's sales dropped slightly from 2008 to 2010, while Nikon's remained flat. Looking at how their DSLR sales were between 2008 and 2010, Canon's barely rose while Nikon's shrank slightly. As Thom Hogan has been pointing out on a fairly regular basis in his blogs, the camera business hasn't been all that good for anybody for some number of years. The only reason Canon makes as much money as it does is because it has a far more diverse business line than just cameras. Nikon, unfortunately, is more of a pure-play camera company and it unfortunately shows in its sales numbers.
Second, market success. Success which has led to growth for everyone involved. Canon entered now because Canon perceives that the market is large enough to sustain its products and supporting logistical business structure. Products don't magically appear. Technology intense products such as digital cameras require expensive engineering, labor-intensive manufacturing (especially those lenses), and supporting supply chain. The larger a company is, the larger the markets must be to sustain them, and this one is now big enough. Canon's entry validates this market as serious, something that all the players should take as good news.
Why the EOS-M?It was the safest technical response that Canon could make. Canon re-used the sensor assembly from the Rebel T4i and packaged it into a typical Cypershot body design. The essentials for taking excellent photographs are there; when it comes right down to it that's all anyone really wants.
Why $800? That's the "Goldilocks price" that makes the camera not to hot and not too cold. To hot (low price or high features) and you run the risk of creating a camera that cannibalizes Canon's regular low-end DSLRs. Too cold (to expensive, not enough feature) and nobody wants it. But just right and it's high enough to keep the "practical" customers away who complain about the lack of "value-add" but just low enough to help entice the early adopters. And that's what Canon wants first time out of the chute. And that's apparently what they've got; according to Amazon, the EOS-M has been number 1 in preorder status since its official announcement. It will probably stay there for a while longer.
With the EOS-M Canon has come into this market of mirrorless interchangeable cameras right where they want to be, with a solid initial product that will pay for itself in short order and establish their beachhead. It doesn't matter if it won't focus as fast as any other competitors, or if focus with EF-L lenses "is almost painful." They now have the market buzz, the attention of their customer base, and it's all positive for them right now. It doesn't really matter what we "enthusiasts" think. Canon has already succeeded with the EOS-M. They just need to execute with later models to continue to succeed, and that will be the story to pay attention to.
One Final NoteThe EF-M is a 22mm 1:2 prime lens. The closest equivalent focal length wise in µ4/3rds is the full stop slower M.Zuiko 1:2.8/17mm, and for basically the same MSRP of $300 (although you can find it cheaper if you shop around). If you want something as fast in µ4/3rds it's the M.Zuiko 1:2/12mm, a 24mm equivalent for $800. If Canon can continue to produce fast prime lenses like the 22mm at this price, then there'll be no more excuses for slower and/or more expensive lenses from the rest of the players. Or at least I would hope.
Update 30 July
Someone wrote about the Panasonic 1:1.7/20mm lens for $400. That's an almost reasonable response, except it's $100 more than the Canon. And the Canon 22mm has a 35mm equivalent of 1.6 x 22 or 35.2mm, which rounded down is 35mm. The Panasonic is more a normal lens of around 40mm equivalent in 35mm terms. That's why I turned and started at the Olympus 17mm. The only other 17mm equivalent for µ4/3rds is the Voigtländer 17.5mm f/0.95 manual focus lens for about $1,300.