Sony Ericsson today introduced five cellular phones -- all with cameras -- and The Register speculates whether Sony Ericsson will be considered a camera company. This isn't just idle speculation. In November 2003 I wrote that Nokia considers itself the largest digital camera company in the world.
Are handset vendors like Nokia and Sony Ericsson poised to be short-listed as digital camera vendors in the minds of many consumers? I think it's possible, especially as higher resolution camera phones -- with innovative designs -- begin replacing the crummy VGA handsets.
Among the camera phones debuted by Sony Ericsson is the 1.3 megapixel (1280 x 960 pixels) S700 that can be held horizontally to take a photo (see below), making it more like a digital camera.
Better ergonomics for picture-taking
Wireless/mobile expert Guy Kewney writes in The Register, "The new phones, which will roll out over the next nine months, almost all have 'dual fronted' design. One side is a phone; but turn it over, and it's a camera.
"The concept looks good, because it means that you hold the camera in a camera style: with two hands. It also means that when you turn the new S700 over and press the 'camera' button, the user interface changes from phone to picture taking."
Kewney wonders whether consumers would view a Sony cellular phone as incorporating a quality camera compared to phones that might be branded as containing, for example, a Nikon or Canon camera.
This raises a very interesting point in the development of the camera phone business. Should Nikon and Canon consider partnering with handset vendors so consumers would see a "Nikon Inside" or "Canon Inside" label?
Some handset vendors might want to build their own brands as makers of high quality camera phones. Indeed, Sony already has a top name in the camcorder business and also produces digital cameras, although its reputation isn't as good as some other digital camera manufacturers.
Nokia also comes to mind as a handset vendor that is more likely to build its own brand than offer co-branded phones. But for many other cellular phone manufacturers, it might be very worthwhile to promote their camera phones as incorporating Nikon or Canon or Olympus quality.
The tri-band GSM S700 (see below) features a 180-degree swivel capability to facilitate easier taking of photos and also browsing the Web. When the S700 is turned over, it's used horizontally to take photos with a two-handed grip if desired.
When the screen is closed, it looks like a PDA and is easier for accessing information. When the screen is opened it reveals the keypad.
The S700 includes a 2.3-inch 262K TFT color screen, a flash, an 8x digital zoom, MP3 capabilities, video recording, Java and, unfortunately, Sony's proprietary and more expensive Memory Stick Pro card slot, rather than a Secure Digital slot. But, it's a Sony!
Months away from sale
The S700 won't be commercially available until the fourth quarter of 2004. I'd love one, but I don't know if I'd ever purchase another cellular phone without a keyboard, like the Treo 600.
I suspect most people will lust over the S700 -- and digital camera phone vendors should be concerned. Camera phones aren't going to kill digital cameras, but they are, without any doubt, going to eat into the market.
If you're in the digital camera business and aren't an expert in camera phones, you had better become one.
Become a camera phone expert
As an advertisement for myself, you can get up to speed at one of my two upcoming camera phone tutorials:
* A day-long camera phone "bootcamp" on April 23, 2004 during the classy and innovative Cameraphone Summit in Maui