Often times, I hear people talk about their cameras as if they are classes in one's college education. They don't want to get a newer camera until they are comfortable that they've figured out their current digital. I find that, as somebody who takes his photography very seriously, that I have a mental model for photography that I simply try to fit as well as possible into the camera that currently is in my hands, so this idea becomes foreign to me.
The Canon A95, which is currently the only digital camera worth speaking of in my house, has a mode wheel. There's plenty of modes to choose from... Maybe I'm shooting "kids and pets" or "fireworks" or "foliage" and want to let the camera know.... but, really, I find that I switch between the P, Av, Tv, and M modes all of the time and ignore all other modes. My wife finds herself in the Auto mode. Except for when I used it last and have it set to another mode, which annoys her.
Normally I just tell people to forget about all of the modes and leave it in the auto mode until they start running into situations where auto mode doesn't work, because it's just going to confuse them. Most people don't understand photography and don't especially care to learn more about it. They care about the results more than the process and would probably be happiest if they could have an inflatable professional photographer who works for pennies.
I think about one of my wife's friends, who didn't realize that her A95 had a zoom lens and wonder... in a situation where using a mode knob is called for, will the user actually know that there's a mode there to solve the problem? I think not. I suspect that the mode knob probably spends most of the time in the wrong mode for the situation for most users.
I think that specialized modes is really just a cop-out. The real answer is harder. Maybe you need to provide a way for the user to say "Gee, this didn't turn out the way I wanted it to" and either select a mode from that point, or have the camera try a different combination of settings automatically for you.
Or maybe we need to solve the problem with brute force and sell 4 megapixel cameras with a 2/3, 4/3, or APS-C sized sensor, so that you can shoot at 1600 ASA most of the time. I do know that I'm quite content with my wife's old P&S camera when I load it with T-Max P3200 film. At 3200 ASA, I can just push the shutter button and let the camera do the work, even if I'm in a dark club.
Either way, both of these require the camera to be sold on the merits of taking good pictures, not on the bells and whistles that cameras are normally selected upon. This is the real problem... The camera makers are quite good at giving people what they think they want, not what they really need.