Magazine Article


Camera Phones Break Megapixel Barrier in U.S.

Nokia & Kyocera Lead the Pack Here As 3MP Mark Is Smashed in Japan

On October 14, 1947, test pilot Chuck Yeager set a milestone in aviation history by breaking the sound barrier in his rocket-powered aircraft, the Bell X-1. In a feat of human achievement of a different sort on May 6, 1954, British medical student Roger Bannister did what had been thought impossible at the time, becoming the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes.

While not exactly on the level of those two landmark events, camera phone technology made history of its own in the U.S. recently as several soon-to-be-released models broke the coveted 1-megapixel barrier. Meanwhile in Japan—which eclipsed the megapixel mark for camera phones a year ago—Japanese cellular carrier KDDI announced it would start selling a camera phone this month with a 3.2MP imager. Called the A5406CA, the handset is being manufactured by Casio Computer.

In the U.S. where camera phone technology has lagged behind Asia, several handsets embedded with 1MP digital cameras were unveiled at the CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association) show this year. For photo retailers looking to capitalize on selling decent quality prints from these phones, 2004 could prove to be a bellwether year. And for cell phone manufacturers who have traditionally been resistant to pursuing the photo channel, 2004 could be the big crossover.

"When you have a really upscale device that has the capacity of a decent digital camera, it makes sense to develop a relationship with more traditional photo outlets," said Keith Nowak, manager of Media Relations for Nokia which is releasing a 1.2MP camera phone, the 7610, in the U.S. "Having the expertise that only a camera store has is going to be a big plus when selling these camera phones."

Late last year, Nokia announced a deal with Kodak to create links from Nokia camera phones to the Kodak Mobile Service, which helps users store, share, organize and print their digital images. A partnership between Nokia, Kodak and drug store chain CVS furthers that relationship by allowing users to print images from their camera phones on Kodak kiosks at over 3,400 CVS locations.

"From an online service side, there's already uploading services on this phone," Nowak said about the Nokia 7610. "A year ago, that was a novelty. But real quick we've already got a lot of established partners who are making [printing from camera phones] a part of their core business."

The 7610, which will retail for "less than $500," has a 4x digital zoom; an integrated video recorder with audio for recording clips of up to 10 minutes; a night mode for capturing images in low light; a self-timer; and 8MB of internal memory along with a 64MB reduced size MultiMedia Card (MMC). The phone, which is Bluetooth enabled, will be available in July, Nowak said.

While it's unclear—and perhaps irrelevant—which manufacturer will have the first 1MP camera phone to hit the streets in the U.S., the first one to cross our radar was the Kyocera Koi which we got a sneak peek of, back at CES in January. The Koi is a 1.2MP camera phone with 5x digital zoom and a flash. The stylish phone features a 180-degree swivel screen design, an MPEG-4 video recorder with playback of up to 15 seconds; and 16MB of on-board memory. It will be available in late summer for about $250.

Motorola is releasing the 1.2MP V710, which has a 4X digital zoom; 15-second video record and playback; an MP3 player; 64-chord polyphonic ring tones; 16MB of on-board memory; and Bluetooth. Likewise, Samsung will be releasing the 1.3MP GSM 850; and perhaps most impressive of all, LG will offer the LG 8000 which boasts a 1.3MP CCD imager, a 10x digital zoom, built-in flash and a video recorder.