Friday, December 2, 2005

Camera Phones

I had a disagreement with Russ Beattie and Jim Hughes a while back about camera-phones. It went something like this:

William: Camera phones are a solution looking for a problem. Camera phones are like sofa beds. They aren't very good beds or sofas. They just take up less space. I'd rather have a seperate camera, PDA, and phone; each optimized for their primary task. The other problem is security. Many companies are banning camera phones yet it's becoming impossible to buy a high-end phone without a camera! The carriers are going back to the OEMs and asking them to remove the cameras from some business oriented phones! My wife has a Treo 600 PDA/camera/phone. The phone has lousy reception, the camera takes lo-res pictures, and the PDA is slow with a tiny display. My T608 gets great reception. My iPAQ 1945 is fast with a beautiful display. My Canon SD110 is 3.2 Megapixel. I can take photos on my Cannon, drop the card in my iPAQ, and e-mail them through my bluetooth T608. All the devices are pocket sized and far better than any converged device I've seen.

Jim:... sure your phone, pda and camera are all pocket sized. But, that's three devices, three pockets. A smartphone with camera does all this (and more) whilst filling just one pocket.

The three step process to shuffle your pictures from device to device might be technically possible, but that's a pretty tedious process for a bunch of quick snaps.

William: A smartphone cannot do more than I can do with my separate camera, PDA, and phone. I believe it does significantly less. In particular it's not a very capable camera, PDA, or phone! Maybe it's "good enough" at those functions to satisfy most people. Maybe I'm just a "power user" that expects more. A bagel only takes up one pocket but I wouldn't use it to take pictures either.

It's not all that difficult to shuffle pictures from device to device. If my camera had Bluetooth then I would barely even realize the shuffling was taking place. The most tedious step right now is moving the memory card from the camera to the PDA. After that everything is pretty similar to sending photos from my Treo. In less than 20 seconds, I pick a recipient, add a note, attach the photo and hit "Send". With Bluetooth I don't even have to take my phone out of my pocket. Some custom PocketPC software could make it even quicker.

I believe connectivity (ala. Bluetooth) is far more valuable than convergence.

I decided to come back now and revisit the issue.

PDA sales have grown at about the same rate for 1Q 2005 nearly a year after Russ' prediction that PDA's are going away quickly. I'm not sure how quickly he had in mind but I predict PDA sales will continue to increase for a few years before we start to see declines.

I want a PDA with a large display. I want a camera with optical zoom. I want a small phone. It's not that I'm betting against Moore's Law or the miniturization of electronics. It's simply physically impossible to put all that stuff into one form factor. Each usage has an optimal shape that goes with it. PDAs should be wide and flat. Phones should be skinny and thick. Cameras need to have some kind of tubular design for the optics.

Maybe I'm overly pessimistic about cameras. Maybe they will come up with such high resolution capabilities that digital zoom is a reasonable option, but right now I don't see that as a replacement for telescopic lenses. Camera phones just don't do that.

Russ rattled off a bunch of other stuff I'd want to do that would cause me to carry around more devices. I disagree. My PDA already does a fine job with video and audio playback. I don't need an iPod. My digital camera can capture video clips though I still might buy a camcorder some day. I play games on my PDA sometimes. I wouldn't buy a GameBoy. My phone has location capabilities built into it though Sprint won't let me access them. This has caused me to think about a GPS receiver but I'd want a Bluetooth unit that would work with my PDA.

I absolutely don't want all this stuff built into one device. I want a smaller phone and I do not want a smaller PDA screen. How can any convergence device solve that problem?

"We do think cell phones are a legitimate threat but it could end up like what happened to the camera-phone market," said Shaw Wu, an analyst for American Technology Research in San Francisco. "Cameras may have helped the cell phone guys to get customers to buy new phones and upgrade but it didn't slow down the digital-camera market."

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