Eastman Kodak Co. has dabbled at the edges of the booming camera phone market for years. Now, its first major entry into the field will go on sale in China next month and make its way to American shelves by year's end.
Mobile phone company Motorola on Monday unveiled the Motozine ZN5 -- a five-megapixel camera phone running on Kodak-developed software and sporting the Kodak name on its shell. The ZN5 is the first output of a 10-year product development collaboration between the two companies that was announced in 2006.
The camera phone market has the kind of growth that companies salivate over. According to imaging industry market research firm InfoTrends, 726 million new camera phones were shipped worldwide in 2007, and shipments are expected to grow 15 percent a year through at least 2012.
The camera portion of the ZN5 runs on Kodak software that controls how the camera works, handles image quality and lets photos be uploaded to a Kodak Gallery account with a single-button function, said John Blake, general manager of Kodak's digital capture and imaging devices group.
Kodak also helped Motorola in selection of hardware providers.
"A lot of the frustrations with mobile capture devices are what we essentially faced (initially) with digital cameras -- poor imaging quality, being able to get things off the device, sharing it," Blake said.
The ZN5 uses Kodak Imaging Technology, a new software package announced by the company earlier this month and specifically made for the mobile device industry that controls both image quality and communication with other devices.
The ZN5 is Motorola's first product under its new Motozine line of multimedia devices. Motorola spokeswoman Kalia Farrell declined to discuss possible pricing of the product.
Motorola is the third-largest mobile phone company in the U.S. market. But its stock value has dropped in recent days as a number of Wall Street analysts have downgraded their evaluations of the company, citing concerns about it losing North American market share.
Blake and Farrell declined to discuss other jointly produced Kodak-Motorola products. However, Blake said, "we're certainly not in this to do one camera."
At five megapixels, the camera in the ZN5 represents a leap in image quality from what most American consumers have seen. The popular iPhone from Apple, for example, sports a two-megapixel camera.
The first five-megapixel camera phones were introduced to the U.S. market in 2007, said Carrie Sylvester, a senior research analyst with InfoTrends, and they should start becoming more widespread here by late this year.
Blake said the software in the camera phone, more than the megapixels, is primarily responsible for the ZN5's image quality.
"The average consumer will never be able to tell the difference" between shots taken by the ZN5 and by high-end cameras, he said.